False Vacuum by CeJay
Summary:
When the fiercely xenophobic Krellonian Star Alliance faces a planetary emergency on one of their colony worlds which has left their medical community baffled, they have no choice but to turn to the Federation for desperate needed help.

The starship Eagle, after much needed shore leave and a comprehensive systems overhaul, is dispatched to cross half a quadrant to assist the Krellonians before the situation can get out of hand.

But as Captain Owens and his crew are quick to learn, much more may be afoot on this remote world than they were led to believe as a threat to not just the Federation but to the entire galaxy begins to emerge.

Take the first step in a journey that will go beyond time and space in Book One of the Quantum Divergence trilogy.

And don’t miss the Road to Quantum Divergence stories, Civil War and Homecoming.


Categories: Expanded Universes Characters: None
Genre: Action/Adventure
Warnings: Violence
Challenges: None
Series: The Star Eagle Adventures
Chapters: 40 Completed: No Word count: 113228 Read: 3780 Published: 18 Dec 2017 Updated: 17 Nov 2018

1. Somewhere, Somewhen by CeJay

2. Prologue: Anything Goes - 1 by CeJay

3. Prologue: Anything Goes - 2 by CeJay

4. Part One: Trust No One - 1 by CeJay

5. Part One: Trust No One - 2 by CeJay

6. Part One: Trust No One - 3 by CeJay

7. Part One: Trust No One - 4 by CeJay

8. Part One: Trust No One - 5 by CeJay

9. Part One: Trust No One - 6 by CeJay

10. Part One: Trust No One - 7 by CeJay

11. Part One: Trust No One - 8 by CeJay

12. Part Two: Do No Harm - 1 by CeJay

13. Part Two: Do No Harm - 2 by CeJay

14. Part Two: Do No Harm - 3 by CeJay

15. Part Two: Do No Harm - 4 by CeJay

16. Part Two: Do No Harm - 5 by CeJay

17. Part Two: Do No Harm - 6 by CeJay

18. Part Three: A House Divided - 1 by CeJay

19. Part Three: A House Divided - 2 by CeJay

20. Part Three: A House Divided - 3 by CeJay

21. Part Three: A House Divided - 4 by CeJay

22. Part Three: A House Divided - 5 by CeJay

23. Part Three: A House Divided - 6 by CeJay

24. Part Three: A House Divided - 7 by CeJay

25. Part Three: A House Divided - 8 by CeJay

26. Part Three: A House Divided - 9 by CeJay

27. Part Three: A House Divided - 10 by CeJay

28. Part Three: A House Divided - 11 by CeJay

29. Part Four: Charybdis - 1 by CeJay

30. Part Four: Charybdis - 2 by CeJay

31. Part Four: Charybdis - 3 by CeJay

32. Part Four: Charybdis - 4 by CeJay

33. Part Four: Charybdis - 5 by CeJay

34. Part Four: Charybdis - 6 by CeJay

35. Part Four: Charybdis - 7 by CeJay

36. Part Four: Charybdis - 8 by CeJay

37. Part Five: Lazarus - 1 by CeJay

38. Part Five: Lazarus - 2 by CeJay

39. Part Five: Lazarus - 3 by CeJay

40. Part Five: Lazarus - 4 by CeJay

Somewhere, Somewhen by CeJay
Somewhere, Somewhen


All of reality was dying.

That much had already been determined. The equations and calculations simply could not allow for any other conclusion. To deny this simple fact was tantamount to denying the existence of reality itself.

And the study of reality was their entire raison d'être, their paramount purpose and their most sacred of responsibilities.

Perhaps it had been different once. Before such considerations as the past, the present and the future had warranted separate and altogether different avenues of thought and philosophy. But once those distinctions had been left behind and deemed irrelevant when contemplating the total sum of reality, considered as too much of an impediment to fully comprehending and appreciating everything that was, is and ever will be, once they had reached that next stage of cognitive evolution, their duty had become inescapably clear.

And who was there to say otherwise?

In the age before this one, when linear thoughts about time and space had still prevailed, there had been other voices alongside their own. There had been such a time when life had been abundant within reality.

Long before the great leap forward, before the vast obligation to all of the meta-universe had even played a role in their thoughts, there had been galaxies and stars and planets on which other beings toiled their daily lives away. And they had reached out to many of those, even if their inferiority had never been in question. There had been a community once, spreading across the galactic hemispheres.

Not anymore.

Other life had simply run its course over the millennia. Stars and entire galaxies had come and gone while at the same time they had grown and spread and evolved until they were all that remained across the universe.

And once all of the cosmos was explored and understood and all thought and contemplation on a single universe had been fully and entirely exhausted, it was only natural to look beyond those feeble borders and seek out a purpose within the infinity of not just their universe but within all of reality.

It was just around that time when the mere concept of time itself lost its consequence.

And it was shortly thereafter—if one insisted on thinking about it all in linear terms, which they had of course long since abandoned—that they had arrived at their ineludible supposition as to the ultimate fate of all of existence.

It is, it will and it has always has been dying.

And it can be changed.

But in order to do so, something drastic has to be done, something that in all of the endlessness of reality, in the countless number of universes had never been attempted or possibly even considered.

It must end and it must commence anew.

But what if there is a different way? A voice asked.

This in itself was peculiar since discord and disagreement were not something they engaged in. The conclusion, after all, had been accepted as an inevitability as certain as that stars were born and died.

Perhaps, the voice said, the conclusions are correct. Perhaps, the voice said, the solution is not.

But this too seemed inconceivable.

The end of reality was assured. Everything would perish, including those who had taken on the obligation to guard reality itself. This could not be allowed.

The vastness of reality does not permit half-measures or minor corrections to the flow of things.

No, such attempts, born out of ignorance and incompetence, attempting to corrupt the natural balance of space—and yes, also of time—have only weakened and in fact accelerated the ultimate demise of all things. Small-minded beings in countless universes, unwilling, but first and foremost, incapable of fully comprehending the impact of their reckless actions by meddling with the delicate fabric of space and time which holds all of the meta-universe together have also, inadvertently, lead to its doom.

It was fully understood that the workings of linear time can be safely disregarded when it is a hindrance to appreciating the full scope of reality. However, it mustn’t ever be perverted in the manner it has been, by using it as if it were nothing more than a tool, an inconvenient barrier which can be broken down and rearranged at will with enough force and determination.

Within those simple and inferior minds, the voice said, hundreds of millennia will come and go before reality will even begin to bend to such an extent that it will eventually break beyond all repair.

Such thoughts were not germane to deliberations taking place outside of time, without beginning or end. The fates of lower beings, of single galaxies or even universes, simply warranted no consideration when fulfilling the enormous responsibility of ensuring the endurance of the entirety of everything.

All that can be seen, has been seen, the other voices said. All that is, all that has come to pass and all that will come to pass has been seen, has been considered, has been understood.

The fate of reality is incontrovertible.

The panacea has been determined.

And dissension is proscribed.

So the voice was no longer heard.
Prologue: Anything Goes - 1 by CeJay
Author's Notes:
June 2376
Stardate: 53364.5
She stepped out of the darkness with slow but determined steps, exuding a kind of confidence which could have been called alluring.

The effect was without a doubt only enhanced by the elegant, crimson evening gown she wore and which sparkled brightly under the spotlight as if it was covered in diamonds.

The dress, of course, wasn’t the only reason she commanded attention. It would have been difficult not to take notice of her golden locks flowing over her perfect shoulders or those intense and gleaming purple eyes seemingly focused on no one, accompanied by a smile that seemed to speak to everyone.

She just stood there a moment, moving hardly a muscle, as if she was the center of reality itself, allowing the universe to gaze at her and her magnificent beauty and be in awe.

Then the up-tempo, jazzy tune began and it had her quickly snapping her fingers in perfect rhythm as her smile widened. When she began to sing, her voice was low and husky but no less alluring than her appearance:

“Times have changed,
And we've often rewound the clock,
Since the Puritans got a shock,
When they landed on Plymouth Rock.
But today,
Any shock they would try to stem,
'Stead of landing on Plymouth Rock,
Plymouth Rock would land on them.”


She took a quick step forward in line with the song’s diminuendo to reveal one of her long, bare legs through the almost provocative slit running up her dress and just before the music swelled once more with the brass instruments kicking in.

“In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking,
But now, God knows,
Anything Goes.”


As the music picked up she too became more active, beginning to pace the stage, her smile turning into a wide and bemused grin.

“Good authors too who once knew better words,
Now only use four letter words,
Writing prose.
Anything Goes.


The world’s gone mad today,
And good's bad today,
And black's white today,
And day's night today,
When most guys today,
That women prize today,
Are just silly gigolos.
Though I'm no great romancer
I know that you're bound to answer
When I propose,
Anything Goes.


When grandmama whose age is eighty
In night clubs is getting matey with gigolos,
Anything Goes.


When mothers pack and leave poor father
Because they decide they'd rather be tennis pros,
Anything Goes.


If driving fast cars you like,
If low bars you like,
If bare limbs you like,
If Mae West you like,
Or me undressed you like,
To molest at night,
Nobody will oppose!
When every night,
The set that's smart,
Is indulging in nudist parties in studios,
Anything Goes.”


The elegant red dress came off her with a quick tug, revealing a skimpy white and blue bathing suit she was wearing underneath even while the stage was being invaded from all sides by cheering male and female dances, all dressed in naval inspired costumes.

The music once more sped up and the group of dancers quickly fell into line with the singer remaining center stage and together they broke out into an elaborate tap dancing routine which had them flying all over the stage, the rhythmically tapping sounds of their shoes complimenting the song flawlessly.

For a full five minutes, legs and arms were swinging left and right, there were twists, spins, jumps, shuffles, and kicks every which way, all while staying in perfect tempo with the music and tapping away in concert.

The big number concluded with the singer being picked up by two large men and being thrown clear a few meters up in the air, only to be caught easily just above the stage where she continued to pantomime the tap dance in midair for a brief while until her shoes made contact with the stage once more and she finished the dance with an increasingly faster set of moves as if in competition with her background dancers.

The music cut out and for a while, all that could be heard were the rhythmic taps of a dozen dance shoes moving in unison until every last dancer froze on the stage in mid-step.

Then the entire group began breaking up again, cheering loudly while the singer roamed back and forth in-between the dancers and playfully kissing a few of them on the cheek.

The music began anew and the group jerked forward to continue their song in a loud and rapid chorus:

“Just think of those shocks you've got
And those knocks you've got
And those blues you've got
From those news you've got
And what pains you've got
If any brains you've got
From those little radios.”


She continued solo for the next verse as she returned center stage and the dancers arranged themselves around her.

“They think he's gangster number one, so they've made him
The favorite son, and that goes to show.”


The chorus stepped back as she moved forward and they belted out the final lines of the song together.

“Anything Goes!
Anything, Anything, Anything Goes!”


The act ended to modest applause from the small number of spectators and the clearly exhausted performers took deep breaths as they congratulated each other.

Michael Owens continued to applaud as the singer walked over to him. He offered DeMara Deen a beaming smile and then quickly passed her a towel which she gratefully took off his hands. “Bravo. That was one breathtaking number.”

She returned his smile as she began to wipe the sweat off her face and arms. "Breathtaking is right," she said, still drawing big gulps of much-needed air after her performance. "But I still think we're going slightly out of sync in the third verse."

“Well if you did, I certainly couldn’t tell. And I’m sure nobody in the audience will either when you perform this in the concert next week.”

She shook her head. “I’m not so certain. We have a few Vulcans on board who are quite sensitive to this kind of thing. They’re known to have a very acute sense of rhythm,” she said and hung the towel over her bare shoulder.

“Something tells me this type of performance may not exactly be in their wheelhouse,” Michael said and handed her a bottle of water next.

She took that one too. “I don’t see why not.”

“I for one don’t recall Cole Porter being quite so racy.”

She gulped down the water and then pinned him with a scowl. “You call this racy?”

He looked her up and down.

“Oh please, so I’m showing a little bit of skin. What’s wrong with that?”

“I didn’t say that there was anything wrong with it.”

“Right. You just would have preferred if I had stuck to that Rossini aria you’ve been talking about, wearing a stuffy costume Earth women used to wear five hundred years ago. I told you, I don’t have that kind of range.”

But Michael Owens disagreed. While he had known DeMara Deen since she had been a child and had never really considered her as a singer, he and the rest of Eagle’s crew had been pleasantly surprised to discover just a year earlier that she had an amazingly beautiful, not to mention powerful singing voice when she had performed a small part in another shipboard performance. She had also turned out to be incredibly versatile, something she had clearly already demonstrated while performing an old Broadway standard which required her to simultaneously execute a challenging dance routine.

“I think you would have made a great Zelmira,” he said. “I’ve heard you hit some of those high notes and I’m still convinced you’d be a fabulous coloratura soprano if you applied yourself.”

“Not everybody shares your fondness for Earth opera, Michael.”

“Plenty of people do. And if you gave it a try, I think you could really move people with your voice instead of getting a rise out of them by ripping your clothes off,” he said and regretted those words the moment they had come over his lips and he saw the darkening frown on her face.

“That’s what this is really about, isn’t it?” she said, her voice taking on a sharper edge. “You don’t like seeing me this way. Michael, I’m not a child anymore.”

He quickly shook his head, trying to dispel any notion that that’s how he still saw her. “Of course not. But you have to admit that this isn’t really you.”

“Why not?” she said pointedly, demanding an answer.

And he didn’t have one.

“Because it doesn’t fit the image you have of me?” she said, answering her own question. “Because you, and many others have come to expect me to look and behave in a certain way and if I do anything that doesn’t fit that mold, I’m suddenly no longer myself? But that’s not true. I’m still DeMara Deen. I’m still that same person you first met when you visited my planet all those years ago. But I’m also older and there is more than one side to me.”

“I ‘m not denying any of that, Dee.”

She crossed her arms in front of her. “I think sometimes you have a hard time seeing me as anything other than that small girl I once was. Like a little sister you need to protect or worse, as the daughter you’ve never had and for whom you are responsible. I don’t need a father figure in my life, Michael. I would think of all people, you would understand that.”

Those words hit harder than he would have expected.

Deen, of course, knew well of his troubled relationship with his own father which had mostly been the result of early childhood neglect which he had overcompensated for in later years by getting heavily involved in his life to such a degree that it was rumored within Starfleet that Admiral Owens had pulled various strings for his son to make it to the captain’s chair.

He had never been able to confirm or deny those rumors to his own satisfaction and now he would never get the chance since Jonathan Owens had recently passed away suddenly and just days after Michael had visited him on Earth.

Deen winced ever so slightly as if she had realized that perhaps she had aimed a little too low but then quickly shook it off as she apparently moved passed it. She returned the towel and the water bottle to him. “We still have plenty of rehearsals to do here and little time until the premiere.”

He nodded. “Of course. For what it’s worth, I still think it will be a rousing success.”

“Thanks,” she said, but her smile wasn’t quite as brilliant as it had been before. She turned back towards the stage to confer with her performers and crew.

Michael watched her for a moment longer before he dropped off what he was holding and left Eagle’s cargo bay which had been converted into a rehearsal stage for the upcoming performances which would be put on once Eagle had finished its current assignment. He was unable to completely shake her words and the conflicting feelings they had aroused within him.
Prologue: Anything Goes - 2 by CeJay
2


Piqus VII was an unremarkable world by any measures of significance. Located at the outer edge of the Krellonian Star Alliance, it was far removed from the center of power and culture of the core worlds. It had been settled by Krellonians nearly two hundred years earlier, at the very height of the expansionist wave that had driven the people of Krellon to spread their sphere of influence over their neighboring systems. It had been an unbreakable devotion to a divine destiny which had fueled their drive to conquer the stars and which had ultimately resulted in the creation of an empire forged by brutal conquest and the enslavement of races considered inferior and requiring the steady yet firm guidance of a people preordained to rule the galaxy by the Infallible Creator.

That religious fervor had of course long since passed and in fact considered an archaic byproduct of a past age by most present-day Krellonians. Slavery, too, had been abolished and its mere existence once upon a time was but a historic blemish best left forgotten least it evoked a sense of guilt and shame within the descendants of those who had allowed those atrocities to be perpetrated.

And Piqus VII which had once been a prosperous outpost of the Star Alliance, thanks to the mineral abundance of the system’s asteroid belt which helped sustain a resource hungry empire, had also become part of the past when those rich deposits had finally been exhausted after decades of unrelenting extraction efforts.

The planet’s generally inhospitable surface had never made it an attractive prospect for anything other than a massive ore-refining operation and the inevitable growth of industrial and commercial interests which came with a prosperity firmly linked to the local mining trade.

Once that had dried-up, many had left to seek their fortunes elsewhere rather than stay behind on a diminishing and bleak world without much of a future. What remained were a handful of crumbling population centers, made up of a very small amount of influential families who had accumulated their wealth through their old industries, a sizeable but increasingly poor class of administrator, and a much larger number of Outlanders, Krellonian subject races, former slaves who had eventually become the cheap labor force toiling in mines.

For most, leaving Piqus was an unaffordable impossibility, even if work was hard to come by these days. Piqus had always been a far-flung corner outpost of the Star Alliance. Travelling towards the core worlds was expansive and leaving the Alliance altogether was almost impossible. Beyond the Piqus system, the galaxy opened up into the star-jammed region of the Amargosa Diaspora, a stellar nursery so dense, it made navigation not just difficult but outright dangerous. And somewhere beyond all those bright stars was the home of another empire few within Krellon space knew or cared much about. A place called the Federation.

Garla looked out of the viewport of her personal yacht to take in the dull, brownish-red planet her ship was approaching and not without a tinge of dread. After all, as far as she was concerned, Piqus VII epitomized everything that was wrong with the Krellon Star Alliance, and as a woman who greatly cared for her people and their future, she found it difficult not to look at this world without appreciating the nearly insurmountable problems they were all facing.

It took only a moment for a sense of swelling hope to replace her dreary concerns. Things were going to change, and soon. After much hard work, they had now finally entered into the final and most crucial stages of making the most radically sweeping changes to the very fabric of Krellonian society and which would promise to forever alter her people's destiny for the better.

It was the very reason she had come to this backwater world, far removed from the prying eyes of the ineffective government and military forces on the homeworld. This then was the perfect place to make those dreams she had chased since childhood finally into reality.

Her reverie of a more glorious and perfect future was interrupted by the sound of an incoming message from the computer console in her quarters.

She tore herself away from the viewport and swiftly walked over to the console to learn who was trying to contact her now. She frowned when she identified the sender.

It was one of those very same ineffective government officials she had tried to leave behind in the capital. As a Sentinel of the Eye of Krellon, the most powerful security and intelligence agency within the Alliance, she had far-reaching authority and autonomy in all her work and was mostly free to tend to her business with very limited oversight. But it also meant that as much as she may have despised the current policies of her government after all was said and done, she was still beholden to them. Along with the Star Navy, the Eye was the principal instrument of government power and influence in the Alliance, and as such, she was obligated to answer enquires of any member of the Central Council promptly and with little delay.

Garla canceled the incoming message.

She was in no mood to speak to that particular councilmember and she could always justify her actions later by claiming interference or a system failure. It was unlikely that Yorlo would believe any of this but it was even less likely that her estranged husband would make a formal complaint that his wife wouldn't take his calls or go as far as involving the paramount—the leader of the council, and de facto ruler of the Star Alliance—directly.

Another warning sound alerted her to their impending descend into Piqus VII’s atmosphere and Garla sat down in her chair and strapped herself in. She had made this trip more than enough times to know that the strong gales sweeping across the surface of her destination at this time of year would make for a turbulent approach.

Her interstellar corvette crewed by three loyal Eye officers bounced and rocked predictably as it raced towards the planet's capital and the most populous city surrounded by the cold and dull tundra of the Southern hemisphere.

Glancing back out of the viewport, Garla watched as the clouds gave way to the sight of the city below with its modest skyline at its center and the sprawl of old habitats and large, mostly abandoned industrial zones surrounding it.

Her ship was heading straight for one of those skyscrapers at the city’s center, not the tallest—that would have been too conspicuous for a regional headquarter of the Eye—and she could see the large and sharply angled glass roof of the building parting to reveal the landing bay ensconced within it just before the sight dropped out of view.

The ship landed with a thud and Garla had released the constraints and jumped out of her chair the moment she had felt the touchdown. She grabbed her already prepared briefcase and hurried towards the exit ramp to finally set foot on Piqus after her two-week journey from the homeworld, thankful to finally be breathing non-recycled air again, even if it was much cooler than she was comfortable with.

She observed for a moment as the deck crew quickly approached her ship to secure the vessel, unload any cargo and promptly refuel it in case a speedy departure was called for. Above her, the darkly tinted, synthetic-glass roof sealed tightly once more to safely hide the innards of this secretive facility.

Like was the case in many places within the Alliance, the more menial and laborious tasks were performed by Outlanders. The deck crew looking after her ship was made up of three green-scaled reptilian Zel, two, large-bodied and dark-furred ursine Buoth and a petite, humanoid Kridrip while the officer in charge was a bulky, middle-aged Krellonian who from all appearances didn’t believe in exposing himself to much physical exercise.

He also, Garla noticed, didn’t seem to believe that his workers were performing their tasks with enough motivation.

“I want this ship fully secured and prepared for lift-off on the double. No more of that poky Outlander pace you have been passing off for work around here lately. It’s no trouble at all for me to replace every last one of you with a crew that actually knows the meaning of hard work, do you read me?”

His little speech seemed to spur on his small troop but also made one of the Zel noticeably nervous and in his haste to attach a refueling conduit, it slipped out of his three-clawed hand, causing liquid fuel to spill onto the deck.

"Infallible Creator, preserve me," the supervisor fumed as he waddled over to the fuel control station to engage the shut-off valve. "How did I end up with the most useless bunch of Outties this side of the Galactic Divide?" Once the fuel leak was contained, he hurried over to the still startled Zel and harshly yanked him backward with enough force that he went flying onto the deck. The supervisor didn't afford him a second look and instead took in the sight of the spill. "Look what a mess you've made. This will all be deducted from your pay. And you remain here until every last drop of this has been cleaned up."

Garla joined the supervisor by his side and the rotund man glanced up at her, startled for a moment that she had managed to approach him without him even noticing. “Sentinel, I am so very sorry for this. It’s these rotten Outlanders. Some of them are damn-near useless with those moronic claws they have for hands.”

She looked back at the Zel who was slowly being helped up by his fellow reptilians and then nodded. "Would it not help avoid these kinds of incidents if you were to assign them tasks more befitting their skill sets?"

He snorted a laugh at that. “What skill sets? One is worse than the other.”

"I see. If your workers are not sufficiently qualified for this work, perhaps you should consider hiring a different workforce."

The supervisor considered her for a moment, clearly not used to a high-ranking sentinel such as Garla to concern herself with such low-level personnel decisions. “It would be challenging to find qualified Krellonian workers at the pay that we can offer. There is also the matter of the quotas we need to fill to employ Outties.”

Garla nodded. “I understand.”

He looked back at the spill and Garla followed suit. “It’s a real mess but it is what it is.”

“For now, yes,” she almost whispered.

He aimed her a quizzical look, clearly not having fully perceived her words.

Garla waved him off and then made to walk away. Then, as if she had remembered something, she turned back to the supervisor. “What is your name?”

“Veetu, ma’am.”

“Veetu,” she repeated and nodded. “You realize of course that it is a criminal offense to physically assault an Outlander?” She didn’t give him an opportunity to respond and instead bestowed him with a look so steely, he couldn’t suppress an involuntary gulp. “I ever hear you laying a hand on another worker again, I will ensure you will never work for a government agency ever again.”

She promptly turned on her heel and strode away before he even had a chance to think about a possible reply to this.

Another Kridrip, almost a full head shorter then Garla and with delicately braided long hair and large eyes, came rushing through the heavy doors of the landing deck even while Garla was heading towards her.

Clutching a data padd in both hands as if his life depended on what it contained, he surveyed the scene of the stunned supervisor next to the fuel leak surrounded by the Outlander deck crew for just the briefest of moments before he glanced towards Garla striding towards him, offering her an exasperated look. “My sincerest apologies for the delay, Sentinel, I’ve been held up by unexpected developments.”

Garla simply shrugged, took the slate off of him in passing and continued through the now open exit without so much as slowing down. “That’s quite alright, Tenn.”

“I hope you had a … uh … pleasant journey,” he said, still seemingly distracted by whatever commotion had transpired before his arrival but recovered quickly enough to follow her through the doors and into the elevator.

“As pleasant as one can be cooped up in a small ship for days on end,” she said as she glanced over the padd Tenn had passed her.

He nodded as he entered their destination into the control panel following which the lift immediately began its descent. "Is there anything that I should know regarding the landing bay crew?"

Garla shook her head. “Just a case of an overzealous supervisor, nothing to worry about,” she said and then looked up at her assistant. “You mentioned an unexpected development. What is it? I don’t see anything in my brief.”

“Yes,” he said. “I was only just informed so I have not yet been able to update it, I’m afraid. Chief Administrator Chella arrived a short while ago and insists on speaking with you.”

Garla sighed. “Speaking of overzealous supervisors. Must be something in the atmosphere here. What does she want?”

The doors of the lift opened to deposit them on the floor Garla’s office was located on.

Tenn followed her closely. "She didn't declare her intentions to me, however, there have been some … concerns in the city and beyond over the last few weeks. I wouldn't be surprised if she wishes to discuss those."

It wasn’t a very long walk to her office where Garla deposited her briefcase on her large desk. “Security concerns?”

“Medical concerns.”

This came as a surprise to her.

“I have advised Administrator Chella that you would not be available to see visitors today but she was quite insistent to speak with you. If you wish I can have her removed from the building.”

Garla smirked at the thought. “As tempting as that may sound, forcefully removing a planetary administrator from a central government facility may invite the wrong kind of attention.”

“Of course. I shall see her in then. Also, you have an urgent message from Councilmember—“

“Yorlo?”

“The same.”

She nodded. “He can wait. He may have significantly more clout within the halls of power, but he’s less likely to appear uninvited on our doorstep if we let him stew a little. Anything else before I meet with Chella?”

“You asked to get a personal status update from the site supervisors at the facility. All three of them have since arrived and are waiting to meet you in person.”

“Very good,” she said as she took a seat behind her desk. “I’ll meet with them once I’m done with Chella. Considering how far behind schedule we have fallen, they have much explaining to do.”

“Indeed,” Tenn said with a sharp nod and then left to fetch her guest.

Garla contemplated the unexpected meeting for a moment. Chella was a typical local leader, high-strung and over-preoccupied with issues she had no immediate control over. As a sentinel working for the Eye, Garla wasn't required to involve local officials in any decisions or projects she was involved in even if said projects were situated within their jurisdiction. She had found it helpful in the past to try and keep on good terms with the locals but the latitude she was willing to extend only went so far. The project was far too important to be endangered because of a mid-level politician who was sore about somebody else playing in her pond.

“Chief Administrator,” Garla greeted the woman as she was shown into her office, maintaining an easy smile which was meant to communicate to the other woman that the moment she had stepped into this building she had surrendered all the control she would have taken for granted outside those walls. The slightly pained expression on the administrators’ face seemed to indicate that she understood this. “Welcome. I must say, however, I was not aware that I had made my travel arrangements public knowledge,” Garla added.

Chella walked up to her desk and offered a nod in greeting. “I like to keep track of the arrival of important officials to Piqus wherever I can.”

"I see," said Garla and stood to be at eye level with the other woman. They were both about the same age—for Garla it was a matter of professional pride to know everything there was to know about a possible political adversary—but thanks to Garla's strict fitness regimen, she was clearly in much better shape and could pass far more easily as a woman a decade younger than she truly was, whereas Chella very much looked her middle-age. Perhaps her much lighter skin and her entirely hairless head, both common characteristics for Krellonians who had grown up on Piqus, attributed to this, as well as the fact that Chella had borne a child whereas Garla had not. "If I were a paranoid person, I would fear that you are keeping track of my movements," she said. And of course she was a paranoid person, had to be, considering her occupation, and she was pretty certain that Chela was doing exactly as she had suggested.

“I am a busy person. I have far more important matters to concern myself with.”

“So I would hope. I take it one of those matters has brought you to my office today.”

She nodded. “There is a growing concern that Piqus has been targeted by an Outlander terrorist attack.”

This was news to her and a very serious accusation. “What kind of an attack?”

"A biological attack. There has been an outbreak of a yet to be identified illness in this city which has been spreading quickly."

“And what makes you think it is an attack?”

Chella allowed herself a minuscule smile, clearly not because she enjoyed the news she was sharing but more likely because she seemed to possess information a Sentinel of the Eye, a spymaster for all intense and purpose, had not yet learned. The administrator was clearly relishing the feeling of momentary superiority this afforded her. "So far only Krellonians have been affected by this illness. There hasn't been a single reported case of an Outlander contracting whatever this is. My investigators are fairly certain it is a targeted attack, likely using an artificially engineered virus of sorts."

“But you have no evidence of this?”

She shook her head.

“Then perhaps, Chief Administrator, it is to early to jump to such conclusions. The physiology of all the Outlander races is significantly different to our own. It even varies a great degree amongst the Outlanders themselves. It may be that they are just immune to this illness.”

"It is possible but Outlander unrest is at an all-time high on Piqus. It stands to reason that this is just the latest in a long string of terrorist activity orchestrated by their ringleaders."

Garla wanted to argue that perhaps the systematic violence perpetrated by Chella's own security forces against Outlanders was part of the problem. But even she had to admit that the matter went much deeper than that. Racial tensions had been a problem for the Alliance for centuries and it had only been getting worse over the last few decades. A real change was needed and soon before the tinderbox which was the fragile state of Alliance society would finally explode and put them all on a path they would not be able to turn back from.

It was no longer even a hypothetical concern. Garla had seen it happen and was determined to do whatever was necessary to avoid it.

“There have also been rumors,” Chella continued when Garla kept her thoughts to herself, “that whatever activities the Eye is involved in on Piqus may have contributed to the spread of this illness.”

Garla shot the other woman a look sharp enough it could have cut steel. It had the intended effect and Chella lost her composure for a brief moment. "I sincerely hope that such rumors are not propagated in any way through your office, Chief Administrator."

Chella took on an air of surprise. Garla couldn’t tell if it was honest or put on. “Of course not. I would never suggest such a thing. I understand that the Eye’s primary concern is the wellbeing of the Krellonian people.”

“Of the entire Alliance,” Garla corrected.

Chella nodded as if that was one and the same. “If you were able to cooperate with my investigators by sharing some of the details—“

“Thank you for bringing this situation to my attention,” Garla said sharply and sat back down, avoiding eye contact. “You can rest assured that I will be looking into this further. May the Infallible Creator bless the remainder of your day.”

The other woman remained glued to the spot for a moment longer, as if not entirely sure, or perhaps not able to believe that she had been dismissed so brusquely, considering her station. “And … yours as well, Sentinel,” she finally said before heading out the door.

Tenn appeared in her stead just moments after she had left.

Garla spoke even while she continued to look contemplatively into the distance. “This health situation. How come I am only learning about this now?”

“It has been kept pretty quiet by the administrator’s office. It has only become news over the last few hours and while you were still in transit.”

Garla shook her head. “That’s not good enough. We should have known about this at the same time the administrator did. In fact, we should have known before.”

“You are correct, of course, my apologies, Sentinel.”

She looked up at him. "It's hardly your fault Tenn, you are my assistant, not an agent working for the Eye. But clearly, the people in this building have not been doing their jobs properly while I was gone. Somebody will have to answer for that. I'll deal with that later."

“Understood. Do you wish to see the facility supervisors now?”

“Yes.” But before her assistant could leave the office again, she called after him. “Tenn?”

He stopped and turned to regard her once more.

“How many Outlanders work in this building?”

He needed to consider this for only a moment. “About one-hundred and fifty.”

She nodded slowly as she processed this. “I want you to draft a proposal to reduce that number by eighty percent before the end of the day. All non-critical Outlander personnel are to be put on furlough until further notice.”

To his credit, he didn't hesitate. "Yes, Sentinel."

She looked up at him. “Put yourself down as critical personnel.”

“Thank you.”

“I’ll meet with the supervisors now.”

As Tenn left to organize her next meeting, Garla quietly considered what she had learned so far and the more she thought about it, the more furious it made her. She had worked too long and too hard for her plans to be undone at this juncture by a group of angry Outlanders who had decided to pick this time to vent their frustrations over the injustices they were exposed to within Piqus society.

Garla could emphasize with their plight but did not condone their behavior. Not all Krellonians held on to age-old racial views that Outlanders were inferior and did not deserve the same rights as Krellonians. A blanket attack—if that was indeed what had caused this latest crisis—was entirely unacceptable and unforgivable. It was also the last thing that she could afford considering other more recent setbacks.

Tenn returned with three Krellonian supervisors, all three clearly locals considering their shaven heads and the pale color of their skin. She recognized two of them from previous meetings right in this building or from visits to the facilities where they worked. The third man she hadn't met before in person and she was a little startled by his appearance. He looked even paler than the other two except for his nose which was clearly inflamed and his bloodshot eyes were evidence that he had not slept well in quite some time.

She stood. “I need answers. The latest reports show that we are way behind schedule even after we have ramped up production. This is simply not good enough.”

The most senior or the three spoke up first. “We’ve encountered difficulties since we lost the secondary facility. A single site simply cannot make up for the loss.”

But Garla shook her head. “This was already discussed. We adjusted our production figures following the incident and I was assured that we would be able to meet the new demand and make up for the shortfall by deploying more personnel.”

The second supervisor spoke next. “Personnel has been the problem.”

“How so?” Garla said.

The third man shook with a nasty cough. "Apologies, Sentinel. I am Reetu Denur, I am in charge of personnel at the facility."

She nodded, she knew his name.

"Fewer and fewer people have been showing up for work over the last two weeks. At first, we thought it was merely related to a seasonal condition but we now fear that—" he had to stop himself when another coughing fit forced him to pull out a handkerchief.

The first supervisor took over. "We've been heavily relying on Outlanders to pick up the slack but we don't have nearly enough in place and considering the high-security clearance the work requires, it is unlikely we can make up the shortfall in a quick enough manner by relying on new personnel."

“Nor should we attempt it,” said the second supervisor. “Not with those rumors going around that the Outlanders are to blame for this.”

Garla had to agree. It was not a chance she was willing to take.

Reetu’s coughing fit didn’t seem to end which was beginning to grate on her nerves. “For the Creator’s sake, go and get some medicine.”

He looked up at her in embarrassment and nodded quickly. “My … apologies, yet again, Sentinel,” he managed to croak between coughs and then headed for the exit. He managed two steps before he collapsed right onto the carpet.

“By the Creator, not him too,” said the first supervisor who quickly knelt next to the fallen man to look him over.

“What is happening?” asked Garla but made no move to step away from behind her desk.

“It’s that illness,” said the second supervisor. “It’s been impossible to tell who has it and who just shows the symptoms.”

Tenn who Garla hadn’t even noticed leaving the room returned suddenly with another man she recognized as one of the physicians that worked for the Eye.

“Step away from that man,” the doctor practically barked at the supervisor kneeling next to the now motionless Reetu on the floor. “I need everyone to leave this room straight away.”

It was only now that Garla noticed that the physician was wearing a mask and rubber gloves. “What is it?”

The man looked up at her. “It has only just been confirmed, Sentinel. Whatever it is we are dealing with here is not just deadly. It’s highly contagious as well.”

The two other men quickly stepped away from their ailing colleague.

“Then that man needs to be isolated straight away,” said Garla.

But the doctor shook his head. “I’m afraid it’s much worse than that. Word has just reached us from the Chief Administrator’s office.”

Garla threw him a quizzical look, not fully comprehending what he was getting at.

“A planet-wide quarantine is now in effect.”
Part One: Trust No One - 1 by CeJay
Part One: Trust No One


1

Humans, he believed, referred to it as giddiness, a word that had quite a different, almost opposite meaning on Vulcan where it was most often associated with an illness and not with the obvious state of excitement he had observed in Louise Hopkins recently whenever he had visited Eagle’s main engineering deck.

While the emotion was mostly foreign to him, he could appreciate why the chief engineer had been in such a positive mood as of late, considering that Eagle had just days ago completed a three week, major systems overhaul at Earth station McKinley which most notably had led to the complete replacement of the ship’s primary power plant, the matter/anti-matter drive assembly.

The new class-ten warp core which was a significant improvement to Eagle’s previously outfitted and now outdated class-eight drive which, even though upgraded and refined many times over the years by starbase maintenance crews as well as by Hopkins and her team of engineers, could simply no longer match the newest and most advanced drive Starfleet had designed in both raw power output and performance.

“This baby is using a tricyclic input manifold, producing four thousand five hundred teradynes per second at peak efficiency and will give us a top speed of warp nine point eight five and an emergency speed of warp nine point nine six for up to six hours," said Louise Hopkins as her eyes almost reverently followed the multiple deck-high and horizontally aligned assembly.

“Any more than that and the nacelles will come flying clean off,” said Lif Culsten, the ship’s flight control officer who stood just next to her.

Xylion understood that the young Krellonian man had most likely meant his comment in jest since it was accurate that Eagle’s over twenty-year-old Nebula-class spaceframe would likely begin to show signs of significant structural failure if exceeding those speeds even if there was no evidence to suggest that either of the warp nacelles, slung underneath her saucer-shaped primary hull, would physically detach themselves from the rest of the starship if exceeding maximum warp velocities.

“Still,” the silver-haired helmsman said. “I wouldn’t mind pushing her to the limits and see if we can break any speed records.”

“That seems unlikely, Lieutenant. The current warp speed record was set by the USS Enterprise in 2364 when, assisted by the entity known as the Traveler, the vessel was able to accelerate at speeds beyond the warp scale.”

“Having some super-powered being turbo-charge the warp drive is hardly fair,” he said, throwing Hopkins a pointed look. “I’m talking about a naturally aspired speed record. How about it?”

But the chief engineer quickly shook her head. “No dice. Not going to let you do that to my new engine, super-powered or otherwise. Besides, we’ll need to do a whole host of reconfigurations and adjustments to the injectors, the regulators, the intermix chamber and a bunch of other components before I fully trust this thing. She may look shiny and new now and she may be behaving nicely while we’re cruising leisurely at warp six, but she won’t reveal her true character until we really let her loose. And I want to make sure she doesn’t blow up in our faces once we do.”

Culsten grinned at her. “Admit it, you’re looking forward to playing around with your new toy.”

The young engineer kept a stern visage. “I’ve spent five years fine-tuning our old engine. It’s probably going to take me just as long to get this one purring like the old one did.”

“Yeah, but you’re going to have a whale of a time doing it.”

Her stern expression broke to be replaced by a large smirk. "It's going to be a blast."

“The swirling is going to need some getting used to,” said DeMara Deen.

Xylion considered the Tenarian operations officer for a moment. On what already was a relatively young senior crew, Deen was by far the youngest but not necessarily the least experienced. She also tended to be the most high-spirited member of the senior staff, exuding an optimism which he had felt on occasions bordered on what humans liked to refer to as Pollyannaism. He had not failed to observe that her usual buoyancy had been much less obvious in recent years which he attributed to the general downturn in ship morale during the Dominion War. And while Xylion, as a Vulcan dedicated to the stoic lifestyle of his people, could not claim to be a great student of emotional intelligence, he had noticed that while the end of the war had significantly increased the general mood onboard, DeMara Deen’s recovery had appeared much slower than what he would have expected from her.

She was of course entirely correct in her remark that due to the tricyclic nature of the class ten warp drive, the matter and anti-matter flow visible through the blue, tubular magnetic construction segments feeding into the central core assembly possessed a distinctively swirling motion instead of the steady and regular pulse on the previous drive.

“I don’t mind what it looks like as long as it gives us enough power for our overhauled weapons and the new transphasic shields,” said So’Dan Leva, the half-Romulan tactical officer who stood at the master control station which some engineers had nicknamed the pool table due to its vague resemblance to the popular gaming accessory. “If you ask me this is by far the most interesting update we’ve received.”

“Agree to disagree,” said Hopkins.

“I’m sure you’ll see things my way if we should ever find ourselves surrounded by enemy ships and those impenetrable shields are the only things standing between us and certain destruction,” Leva said.

“The transphasic shields do not, technically, provide impenetrable protection,” said Xylion who was quite familiar with the design since Eagle had been used as a testbed for the technology during a mission into a nebula containing radiation which would have been deadly to the crew without it. "Its rapid frequency shift into alternate phase states has shown a nearly sixty percent increase in blocking beam and projectile impacts as long the significant power input the emitters requires can be met."

“And that’s the crux of the matter,” said Hopkins. “The new warp core gives us quite a bit of additional punch, but even that won’t be enough to run those shields for much longer than a few hours. And that’s while not at warp and under optimal conditions.”

Alendra nodded. “In my, admittedly limited experience, optimal conditions go out of the airlock the moment you have engaged in battle.”

Lieutenant Marjorie Alendra was one of the most recent additions to Eagle’s crew. The blue-skinned and bald-headed Bolian officer had come onboard a few months earlier on Lieutenant Commander’s Leva recommendation who had served with the woman briefly on the USS Sacajawea when he had been made her first officer in an assignment which had lasted a mere days before the ship had been destroyed. According to Leva, Alendra had served on the other vessel in multiple roles at various times, including as a pilot, as an engineer, a tactical officer, as well as at operations and even as the executive officer, mostly due to the shortage of experienced officers during the war years. On Eagle, she had ostensibly become Leva's deputy tactical officer but her versatility had allowed her to pick up various tasks as required.

“Don’t sell yourself short,” Leva said. “You’ve seen plenty of combat during the war.”

“Enough to last me a lifetime. I’d be happy not to get into another major battle for the rest of my career.”

“I can’t promise that,” said the tactical officer. “What I can say is, regardless of how long the transphasic shields last under fire, even having just a few additional seconds during a heated battle can mean the difference between life and death.”

Culsten nodded. "Agreed. A little bit of extra security doesn't hurt, especially since we're about to embark on a mission which will literally take us where no one has gone before." He quickly continued when he noticed Xylion raising his eyebrow. "Except for maybe automated probes and whatever indigenous people call it their home."

He offered a short nod at his accurate correction.

“But we’ll be the first Starfleet ship crew to get to see the Seven Sisters with our own eyes. Now, I don’t know about you guys, but that’s what got me really excited,” he said.

Xylion had always found it somewhat peculiar that Lif Culsten, as a Krellonian and non-Federation citizen, seemed to exhibit a surprising comfort and familiarity with human traditions and customs instead of displaying much of his own people’s heritage, almost as if he had chosen to fully assimilate into a culture not his own. This was evidenced once more by his decision to refer to the star cluster they had set out to explore by its human nickname.

“I would be more excited about this if we didn’t have to rely on untested technology to get there,” said the chief engineer. “Whoever thought that using a warp sled to travel space was a good idea?”

“I think it only adds to the appeal,” Culsten said.

To that Alendra shot him a puzzled glance. "I'm surprised to hear you say that. All the pilots I've ever known hated the idea of surrendering control of their vessel to anyone else, especially a machine."

"There is that," he said, nodding slowly. "But the idea of going faster than even Lou's new drive could possibly make us go? I don't know, it makes me feel giddy, I have to say. Come to think of it, maybe that's the way to break those speed records, huh?"

But Hopkins crossed her arms in front of her chest, not nearly as excited about the idea.

“As long as we get to be explorer again, I don’t think it matters too much how we get there,” said Deen. “It’s what we are supposed to be doing. I mean, when was the last time we had a chance to live up to the Starfleet charter and discover actual new worlds?”

“Three years, ten months and fourteen days,” Xylion said.

“Way too long,” said Culsten, nodding in agreement.

Alendra nodded as well. “For me, it’s the first time, so I’m definitely excited.”

“Let’s focus on the task ahead first. Before we even get a chance to seek out new life and new civilizations we will need to travel through occupied Cardassian space which these days is some seriously dangerous territory,” said Leva, who to no one’s surprise, was focused primarily on the tactical situation of their upcoming mission. “Warp sled or not, we may easily find ourselves in a sticky situation before we even get to where we need to be going. We’d be lucky if we’ll be able to speed our way through that hot zone.”

“No kidding,” said Alendra. “We’ve already lost two ships, the Phoenix and the Sojourner earlier this year, not to mention Point-Station Epsilon and the destruction of the Klingon headquarters on Lakesh.”

“But we’ll be mostly traversing Romulan occupied-space,” said Deen. “Isn’t it much calmer on their side?”

“The only reason for that,” said the Bolian, “is because they tend to squash any sign of trouble with the use of disproportional force. And since violence only begets more of the same, I think it’s only a manner of time before things will spiral out of control in their territory as well.”

Leva didn't seem to like what he was hearing, or perhaps the tone of Alendra's voice. "There are Romulans who are trying to make the occupation work and are genuinely interested in helping the Cardassians rebuild. I think it's an unfair characterization to paint them all with the same brush."

“I suppose you have some special insight into that situation,” she said, sounding, at least to Xylion’s ears, surprisingly confrontational.

“Just because my mother is Romulan doesn’t mean I have a greater insight into how that half of my people conduct themselves,” he shot back.

She shook her head. “I meant to say that you have friends in the Romulan Guard.”

Leva and Alendra stared at each other for a moment.

“One,” he finally said.

Xylion believed that he was referring to a female officer he had met during his mission to Romulus during the war and with whom he had briefly reunited a few weeks ago while she had traveled to Earth as part of a diplomatic delegation. He couldn’t be certain but it seemed as if this subject of conversation had suddenly introduced some tension between them.

“Right. Well, if you’ll excuse me, I have a bridge shift starting soon,” said Alendra and then promptly left engineering.

Xylion was fairly certain that her scheduled shift was not due to commence for another two hours and twelve minutes.

“I’ll better get on my way as well,” Leva said only moments after Alendra had departed so suddenly. He glanced towards Hopkins before he went. “We’ll schedule some simulations on how the transphasic shields will hold up with the new warp core before we reach Cardassian space.”

“I will make sure to make time for those.”

He nodded and left in Alendra’s wake.

“Was it just me or did that feel somewhat awkward?” said Culsten once the doors to main engineering had closed shut again behind the tactical officer. “If I didn’t know any better, I would say there is something going on between those two.”

“Best not to pry,” said Deen.

Hopkins nodded in agreement and went back to work on the master control station. “I suppose you have to appreciate that he still stands up for his people even considering he’s not fully Romulan himself.”

Xylion agreed with that sentiment, fully appreciating that So'Dan Leva had noticeably struggled with his identity and his split heritage ever since he had known the man. The fact that he was able to identify with his Romulan side was certainly a positive step in his opinion if for no other reason than to satisfy his own scientific curiosity of exploring the shared commonalities between the Vulcan people and the Romulans who after all, at one point, had all been one people.

He was just about to continue assisting Hopkins, Deen and Culsten on the work they still had to complete before Eagle could be safely coupled to the warp sled which was due to take them further then they had ever traveled before when he noticed that unbeknownst to Hopkins, Culsten was still considering the chief engineer with a skeptical expression decorating his face, apparently still considering her last words.

“Or maybe he has just taken a liking to his Romulan friend. Maybe this has nothing to do with him standing up for his people.”

She looked up at him, surprised and clearly not having expected his retort. Xylion, too, had to admit that he wasn’t certain why Culsten had insisted on making that point.

“Maybe,” she said carefully. “But then I would rather like to think better of him.”

“Defending a people who have shown a systematic disregard for the good of their own populace does not make one a better person,” he said, sounding uncharacteristically forceful considering the subject matter. Xylion had never known Culsten as a man of great convictions. That was not to say that he couldn’t be serious if the occasion called for it. He had, in the past, shown more than once his ambitions to rise above his current station in Starfleet, but it was unusual to hear him take such a strong position on what appeared to be a social or even political issue.

“Maybe defending such an institution or government is wrong, but he’s right in saying that not all people who live in such a society are necessarily complicit in the actions of that government. There’re good people in most bad societies actively trying to make a change,” said Hopkins, and surprisingly to Xylion quickly matching Culsten’s sharp tone, implying that this wasn’t the first time they had engaged in this topic of conversation.

“Well, I don’t see him trying to make a change. I think he’s mostly just content to stay out of it altogether.”
“Does he, though?” she shot back. “A couple of years ago he went back to Romulus, the very heart of the Romulan Empire, to appeal directly to their senate to enter the Dominion War.”

“On Starfleet orders.”

“From what I heard it was mostly a suggestion. Besides, he’s clearly still engaging with his own people and showing an interest.”

Culsten dismissed this with a wave of his hand. “His interest seems to have very little to do with his desire to improve the conditions of his people in general.”

Deen jumped in before Hopkins had a chance to respond, perhaps sensing the impending circularity of the argument that was unfolding. “I am going to go on a limb here and assume that we are not actually talking about Romulans anymore.”

Both Culsten and Hopkins threw her very similar blank looks which quickly turned into embarrassed expressions when they realized that they had allowed their argument to be voiced so openly.

“You know what?” Culsten said and very briefly glanced at Hopkins while doing so. “I still need to review the navigational data for our upcoming trip. I’m sure you can finish here without me,” he added and then left almost as quickly as Alendra and Leva had done before him.

“And the Captain is waiting for my progress report on the warp sled integration,” said Hopkins, picked up a padd and then headed for the exit as well, except she headed for the exact opposite direction Lif Culsten was taking.

Xylion looked at Deen at her side, the only member of the senior crew remaining with him in engineering. “I may be mistaken but it certainly appears that the tension level amongst the crew is surprisingly high considering the recent shore leave and the nature of our upcoming assignment.”

She considered him for a brief moment but then simply shrugged. "I hadn't noticed," she said and then went back to work.

As Deen was clearly not interested in discussing his observation on their colleagues any further, which in itself seemed somewhat out of character for her, he decided to join her since the unexpected reduction of their original team had now significantly increased their workload.

After all his years working alongside emotionally-inclined species, he had to admit that they still had a tendency to perplex him on a fairly regular basis.
Part One: Trust No One - 2 by CeJay
2


“I haven’t seen a starship crew this excited over a mission since my first assignment out of the Academy. It’s not just that we’ll get a chance to finally truly explore new regions of the galaxy. I think it’s also the fact that we’re getting to do it now, after the Dominion War and the various crises that we’ve had to deal with before and after. There has been an increasing sense of resignation—and I don’t mean just on this ship—that the purpose of Starfleet has become fighting wars and dealing with galactic emergencies. It has become so prevalent that some of the younger officers and recruits these days only know about Starfleet’s mission of exploration through reading about it. But I’m convinced that for many of those people—and I count myself among those—when they first dreamt about joining Starfleet, they did so because they were enrapt by the stories of the great explorers of yesteryear and the chance to someday follow into their footsteps.”

Tazla Star nodded with a growing smile on her face while listening to her captain speak. “Some of my career choices may say otherwise, but I was one of those kids with stars in her eyes when I grew up. There was a time when I had wanted to be an explorer more than anything.”
Michael Owens considered his red-haired first officer sitting opposite him at the desk of his ready room and had to admit that he didn't have an easy time imagining her having had the same dreams he'd had when he was a child. And perhaps this was because part of him still saw her as the woman she had been when she had first joined his crew two years earlier, when all he had truly known about the former starship captain had been that she had shown poor judgment and acted rashly just months into her first command and as a result people had lost their lives. She had later admitted that she had spent a significant time of her career as a clandestine operative for a shady branch of Starfleet Intelligence, mostly beholden to one ruthless individual who had been chiefly responsible for her eventual downfall.

He had long since moved past his trust issues with Tazla Star who had repeatedly shown herself more than willing to not only start her career anew on Eagle but also put herself in harm's way to protect her new ship and crew. There was no denying that she had come a long way since that first day she had stepped into his office, and perhaps—Michael thought—it wasn't so hard after all to imagine that this version of Star had once shared much more in common with him than he would have ever thought possible.

The annunciator interrupted his brief reverie and he glanced towards the doors of his ready room. “Come in.”

The doors parted with a hiss to allow Louise Hopkins to step into his office, bringing with her a padd. “Captain. Commander.”
“Lieutenant,” Star said. “How’s that new power plant fitting in?”

The young engineer smirked. “Oh, she’s fitting in quite nicely, Commander. I know the Mark-X wasn’t designed for this class of ship but I won’t stop until she feels like the most natural fit and purrs like a wildcat.”

Michael nodded. “And you’ll have the time to do just that. It’ll take us a good three weeks to reach the Pleiades, even using this new warp sled we’ll be using to get us there.”

“That’s why I’m here,” she said and handed him the padd. “I’ve finished the work schedule to get the ship ready to connect to the sled. I’m still a little nervous about the idea of hooking all our systems up to another vessel and letting it take us into warp, especially with the untested upgrades we’ve only just installed on Eagle.”

“I’ve been assured that this warp sled is perfectly safe and fully compatible with all our systems,” Michael said as he glanced over the padd.

“Yes,” the engineer said, sounding cautious. “I have been told the same thing. But still, we’ll be the first Starfleet ship to use this technology during an extended period of time. I guess I just don’t like the idea of being the guinea pig for Starfleet R&D.”

Star smirked. “Ah, Lieutenant, where’s your sense of adventure? Starfleet was founded on the idea of testing new and experimental technologies. The first transporter, the warp-five engine, the duotronic computer system; it all had to start somewhere. Why not us for the next great thing? Imagine, they may mention your name in the history books among Cochrane, Erickson, and Daystrom.”

But Michael could tell that Louise Hopkins wasn’t the type to clamor for glory and fame. After all, differently to him and Star, she had clearly not signed up to Starfleet to become an explorer, generally having preferred the more familiar surroundings of her engineering room instead.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of new technologies. Eagle hasn’t exactly been on the forefront of cutting-edge systems over the years. It’s just with the new warp drive, the improved weapons systems, those transphasic shields and now the warp sled, there is a lot of things that could go wrong and if they do, we might be a long way from a friendly port to get help.”

“Sounds like a challenge to me,” Michael said. “And if there is one thing I know you’ve never shied away from it’s a challenge.”

The little spark in her eyes revealed that she wasn’t about to start now. “I guess that’s true.”

“That’s what I thought,” he said and handed her back the padd. “How long to make the necessary modifications to prepare for the warp sled?”

“Oh, those are easy. Half a day or so. We should be all ready to go once we get to our rendezvous. I suggest we take our time once we get there though, I want to complete a few full level one system diagnostic before I'm going to be totally comfortable to hand over our propulsion to another vessel."

“Sensible,” said Star and exchanged a quick nod with the captain. “Make sure you work closely with Culsten on this,” she added. “We’ll still be responsible for navigation and I want to make sure he is as prepared as he can be piloting the sled.”

Michael didn’t miss the pained look that crossed her features when Star mentioned the Krellonian helmsman. “Uh, yes … yes, of course. If you’ll excuse me now. I better get started on the modifications.”

Michael dismissed her with a nod and the engineer headed for the exit.

“Oh, Louise?” he said before she had reached the doors.

Hopkins turned around.

“I know you’ll be busy over the next three weeks working on your new warp core, not to mention keeping an eye on that sled but I really hope you’ll be able to join us for the ship’s concert. The performers really worked hard on their acts.” Ordinarily he wouldn’t have felt it necessary to remind anyone about the upcoming concert but Hopkins had a tendency to skip social gatherings whenever she could.

“I’ll make sure to make time for it,” she said and then quickly left.

Michael looked back at his first officer. “Is there something the matter between our pilot and engineer I’m not aware of?” he said. While the couple hadn’t exactly advertised their relationship, it hadn’t been a great secret either, especially since they had only recently spent nearly three weeks on shore leave together.

“I’m not entirely sure,” she said. “But I think there may have been some tension between them ever since they came back from Krellon a few weeks ago.”

There was a reason why he wasn’t exactly fond of the idea of his officers engaging in relationships with each other. And while Starfleet was infamous for its proclivity of having long and detailed regulations on most aspects of the service, and had quite a few guidelines regarding fraternization between officers and enlisted personnel, there were no rules against members of a starship crew, of any rank or position, to become romantically involved with each other.

And Michael could appreciate that it was unrealistic to expect people who served together on a relatively large starship which practically functioned like a small community, not to gravitate towards each other over time. He also understood that this could also lead to serious challenges as well, such as when Gene Edison, his former first officer who had fallen in love with ship’s security chief Nora Laas had been tragically killed in action while at her side. It had taken the usually steadfast Bajoran a long time to get over that terrible loss.

Star seemed to know what he was thinking. "I'll keep an eye on them," she said, and he nodded. "Now, about that ship concert," she added, clearly not wishing to stay on the subject, most likely since she possessed a more liberal view on inter-ship romances than he did. "I hear you've gotten a sneak peek at some of the acts already."

He smiled, remembering DeMara impressive rehearsal he had witnessed the previous day. No, it hadn’t been Rossini, which he would have preferred, and the performance had felt a little bit too forced and risqué for his tastes, but there was no doubt it would be a hit with the crew once they got to see her and her troop singing and tap dancing all over the stage in a week’s time. “Yes, I was lucky enough to get an early taste.”

She offered him a beaming grin. “Rank hath its privileges.”

“Indeed. And from what I’ve seen, they will quite literally bring the house down,” he said.

“Bridge to Captain.”

Michael glanced towards the ceiling upon hearing Lieutenant Alendra’s voice who was apparently the duty bridge officer at present. “Go ahead, Lieutenant.”
“Sir, we’ve just picked up a ship on an intercept course. And they’re in a real hurry to get to us.”

Michael and his first officer exchanged puzzled looks, neither of them expecting a rendezvous until they reached the Aldebaran system where Eagle was due to link up with the warp sled.

“We’ll be right there, Owens out,” he said and stood.

“Are we expecting guests?” Star asked as she followed him onto the bridge.

“Not to my knowledge,” he said just before he stepped through the parting doors and walked onto the bridge where Alendra had already gotten up from the command chair to make way for him.

“Sensors have just identified her as the Alexander Hamilton. And she’s doing warp nine point two,” she said.

Lieutenant Lance Stanmore turned around from the operations console he was currently manning. "Sir, according to her transponder signal she’s carrying Admiral Throl’s flag.”

Michael nodded. Throl was his commanding officer but it was unusual for him to come out in person to speak to him. In fact, he could not remember the last time they had met under such circumstances. Whatever it was he wanted, it was very urgent, very important, or quite possibly both.

Alendra had moved to the tactical board on the horseshoe-shaped console behind and above the command area. “Sir, the admiral is requesting permission to beam onboard.”

“Helm, drop out us out of warp and prepare for the rendezvous,” Michael said.

“Aye, sir,” responded Ensign Srena and after only a moment, the Andorian had cut the warp engines as evidenced by the settling starscape on the view screen. “We’ll be in transporter range in four minutes.”

Michael turned to look at Alendra first. “Lieutenant, advise the Hamilton that we’re ready to receive the admiral,” he said and then to his first officer: “I guess we’re having a guest after all.”

She dipped her head slightly. “I shall welcome the admiral on board and show him directly to your ready room.”



* * *




Just a few minutes later Tazla Star received Admiral Throl in the transporter room.

Tazla liked Throl.

The Denobulan flag officer, almost a full head shorter than she, didn’t carry with him the same kind of arrogance and standoffishness which was often commonplace amongst members of the Admiralty. It was also refreshing not to be subject to the often unspoken but almost always judgmental looks she received from officers of his rank who were not willing to look beyond her blemished record which had ultimately led to her months-long stint at the Starfleet stockade.

Of course she understood that suspicion was justified, after all, the decisions she had made in her past had led to preventable casualties, even if there had been mitigating circumstances, and had it not been for the Dominion War, she most likely would still be in that prison cell today.

Yet Throl seemed to be thinking none of those things as he bounded down the transporter platform, evidencing his great energy and defying his age, and then offered Star a typically wide Denobulan grin after she had formally given him permission to come onboard.

She escorted the admiral up to deck one during which Throl made a few polite comments about the ship and her crew but refused to give away any indication as to the purpose of his visit.

“Michael, it is so good to see you again,” said Throl once he had entered the ready room along with Tazla Star. He had quickly crossed the small office while Owens had left his chair and then vigorously shaken the captain’s hand with both of his.

“Admiral, always a pleasure,” Owens said, returning the friendly smile even if he was biologically incapable of mirroring the Denobulan’s width. “Can I offer you something?”

“I know you are fond of tonic waters,” the admiral said. “I’ll try one, thank you.”

Star beat Owens to the replicator and ordered three beverages before placing them on the captain’s desk.

“I was just pointing out to Commander Star what a fine ship and crew you have here.”

Throl may not have been the most typical Starfleet admiral she had encountered but making general platitudes seemed to be an inherent part of a flag officers repertoire.

“Thank you, sir, we’re all very proud of her,” he said.

"I'm glad we finally got her in for that much-needed overhaul," the admiral continued as he took a sip from the tonic water but without settling down in the chair. "Uh, bitter. But not bad, not bad at all," he said, the unfamiliar beverage distracting him only momentarily. "Starfleet has been very pleased with Eagle’s performance and the new modifications will ensure that she remains one of the fleet’s most reliable ships of the line.”

Owens exchanged a quick look with her before he considered the admiral again. “That’s good to hear and I have every confidence that she will.”

“So do I, Michael,” he said and took in the ready room. “I don’t think I’ve been on Eagle since you first took her on her maiden voyage. I really don’t get out enough.” He stopped in front of the large canvas of the colorful painting of a green landscape surrounding a yellow country home which hung on the far wall. “That’s quite something. Reminds me of an Edward Hopper.”

Tazla threw Owens another look, this time surprised to find that Throl was apparently somewhat of an art aficionado and judging by the captain’s expression he was just as surprised.

Owens smirked as he joined him. “Nothing quite as fancy, I’m afraid. It’s a watercolor painting of my family home on Earth. It was done a few decades ago by a close friend of my father’s.”

Tazla was out of her element, not being particularly familiar with art, all she could really tell from her rudimentary knowledge was that it had been painted in the style of realism and that she had always thought it odd that Owens had it in his office, since it had clearly once belonged to his father with whom he’d had a conflicted relationship while he had still been alive. Not to mention that as a self-proclaimed explorer, she would have expected him to decorate his office with something less homey.

The admiral turned away from the painting and to Owens. “I was very sorry to hear about your father’s passing and that I was not able to attend the funeral. We lost a great man.”

Owens nodded, acknowledging his sentiment but said nothing.

He hadn't opened up to her much about how he felt after his father had passed away just a few weeks ago and while they had still been on Earth. She had actually been right there with him, on shore leave on a boat on the Australian coast, when he had gotten the news. And it had been obvious that it had hit him hard. Much harder, she guessed, than he would have expected. Shore leave had naturally been cancelled, at least for the captain and she had spent a bit of time speaking to him afterwards, but very little of what he had talked about had actually given her any insight into how he had felt about his father when he had been alive, or now, that he had passed.

“Admiral, I take it you didn’t come all the way out here for a social visit. Not that we don’t appreciate you joining us,” Owens said and indicated towards one of the two chairs facing his desk.

Throl nodded and took a seat, followed by Owens. Tazla took the remaining chair by the admiral’s side. “Yes, of course. I’m sure you have been wondering about that and I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. In fact, it is quite imperative that we discuss the matter I’ve come to see you without further delay.”

“I assume your personal visit means that we are no longer heading for the Pleiades,” said Owens, doing a decent job of trying to mask his disappointment even if he wasn’t entirely successful.

"Just to be clear, it is merely delayed. Not canceled," he said quickly. "Now that the war is over, Starfleet still has every intention to allocate some of our admittedly dwindled resources to the purposes of expanding our reach into previously uncharted regions of space."

Owens nodded. “That is good to hear. What is the nature of this delay, Admiral?”

"The Federation Council was contacted five days ago by representatives from the Krellon Star Alliance asking for urgent assistance with a medical emergency on one of their border colonies. An outbreak of a highly infectious viral disease of sorts which has mystified their medical community and has spread across the entire planet in a matter of days."

“The Krellonians?” Owens said, clearly surprised. “I cannot recall a time they have ever sought out any kind of assistance from the Federation.”

“They have a number of trade treaties with us,” said Tazla who was in her element when it came to galactic politics thanks to her intelligence background. “It is a mostly one-sided affair in which we export quite a few resources to them for very little import in return and ostensibly to foster improved relationships with their highly xenophobic government. They’ve also imposed very strict guidelines on any trade or travel arrangements. Last I heard, Federation ships are not allowed to cross in Krellonian space and any cargo is usually transferred onto their own freighters at the border.”

Throl nodded, "That is exactly right, Commander," he said and looked back at the captain. "As you can imagine, the Federation Council believes this to be a possible step to improve and perhaps even normalize relationships between our people. Following the war, we are desperate for new allies and if there is even a small chance that this could lead to more than a costly trade agreement, the Council is willing to extend any help that has been requested."

“Not to mention trying to be a good neighbor,” said Tazla.

Throl offered her grin. “And that, of course.”

“What kind of help have they asked for exactly? What do we know about the medical situation on their world?” Owens asked.

“Very little, I’m afraid. They have not been willing to share any details about the nature of their medical crisis beyond what I’ve told you.”

"Krellonian space is deep in the Beta Quadrant," said Tazla. "It would take us weeks to get there. There must be closer ships which could respond to this emergency, not to mention actual hospital ships which would be better suited for such a mission."

“All very true, Commander. However, Eagle has been requested specifically for this assignment.”

This brought up both officers short. Alarm bells were already beginning to sound in her mind but Owens asked the question first. “Why us? If this is such a critical emergency and they’re reaching out to us for the first time in what seems like forever, why would they request a very specific starship?”

“They haven’t told us. Our best guess is that it might have something to do with your pilot.”

“Lif?” she said.

He nodded. “There aren’t many Krellonians in Starfleet. They can probably be counted on one hand. Lif Culsten I understand is fairly well connected within the Krellonian government even if I wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly how due to the secrecy in which the Krellonians like to shroud themselves in. As it turns out, Mister Culsten hasn’t been exactly forthcoming with his family connections either, according to his file.”

Owens uttered a sigh and tugged down on his uniform jacket which Tazla immediately interpreted as a sign of discomfort. She didn’t blame him at all. “Admiral, I have to be honest, I don’t like any of this.”
“I didn’t think you would, Michael.”

“The last time we were asked to travel to a world to seek out a potential new ally, the mission turned into a disaster. And mostly because of how Starfleet had decided to handle that situation internally.”

She was thankful that he had not looked her way when saying this, considering that she’d had something to do with the way things had turned out on the mission he was referring to.

Throl acknowledged this with a small nod. "I know what you are thinking. This will not be another Tiaita. Yes, Starfleet is desperate for allies but not nearly as much as it was during the darkest days of the war. We are not bending over backward to accommodate the Krellonians. Your mission is to go to their planet and assist them in a medical capacity in any way you can. If you are able to create some goodwill amongst their leadership in the process: Excellent. If it turns out you are not able to assist at all: Than so be it. Neither I nor the Federation Council expects you do to do anything beyond that."

Owens nodded slowly. “There is still the point of getting there.”

“You’ll continue on to Aldebaran and link up with the warp sled. But instead of heading towards Cardassian and Ullian space you’ll be going towards the Amargosa Diaspora. Krellon space lies just beyond. If the sled works out as advertised, the trip will take just a few days.”

“Admiral, a question, if I may?” said Tazla.

“Of course.”

“If this is merely a medical mission—putting aside for the moment that we were specifically requested—why did you come all the way out here in person to tell us this? You could have briefed us about this mission just as well over subspace.”

The admiral hesitated for a moment and the look on Owens’ face made it clear that he had been wondering about the exact same thing. “Commander, would you mind giving us the room for a moment?” Throl said.

She shot a brief look at the captain who gave her a nod. “Of course,” she said, stood and left the room.


* * *



“I don’t really appreciate keeping secrets from my first officer, Admiral,” Michael said after the doors had closed behind Tazla Star.

“Nothing I’m about to tell you has to be kept from her, Michael. I just wanted to tell you first before you decided if you wish to share this information.”

He leaned back in his chair slightly, bracing himself for whatever was coming next.

Throl took another sip from his beverage and allowed his gaze to briefly wander over to the large painting before he spoke. Then he looked back at the captain. “This mission is being handled through the Department of Special Affairs and Investigations.”

That in itself was, of course, no great revelation or reason for concern since SAI often took an interest in missions which could have wider implications. But Michael understood why Throl had decided to tell him this in private. SAI had been headed by his late father and what Throl likely didn't know, was that Jonathan Owens had very surprisingly asked him—demanded really—that Michael leave Eagle and came to work for him just a day before he had died.

“There isn’t much more I can tell you since SAI is almost as bad at sharing information as the Krellonian government seems to be. What I can tell you is that since your father’s passing, the agency is being led by a man I think you know quite well.”

"Jarik," Michael said, referring to his half-Vulcan former Academy roommate with whom he had reconnected while on Earth recently and after he had been startled to learn that he had been working for his father for years.

Throl nodded. "Yes. He has been named interim-director and will assume operational command of this mission. He is awaiting you in the Arkaria system which is practically on your way to Krellon space and he will brief you in more detail once you get there."

“I’m confused,” Michael said. “You mentioned that there were no more details to share. That the Krellonians had been very vague about their request.” He continued on before Throl had a chance to speak up again. “No, let me guess. There is more, it’s just that you’re not privy to that information. Something else is going on here. I mean why else would SAI be involved and presumably make you come see me in person instead of using subspace.”

The admiral nodded slowly. “I suspect as much, yes. But Michael, I am not negating on my point from earlier. No matter what else Jarik and SAI are up to, your mission as far as Starfleet Command is concerned is clear. You are to assist the Krellonians with their medical emergency. You are not authorized for anything beyond that. This is not an intelligence op and you are not expected, or in fact cleared, to carry out any kind of clandestine mission against a foreign power.”

“Right,” he said, sounding unconvinced. “And if Jarik asks me to? You said it yourself, he has operational command and Arkaria is at the outer edges of Federation space.”

"Michael, I trust your judgment. You have navigated these kinds of waters before. And whatever decision you end up making, I will back you completely."

“I appreciate the vote of confidence.”

Throl stood. “You’ve earned it,” he said and shook his hand once Michael had stood also. “Watch your back out there and good luck.”

Michael had called Star back into his office to escort the admiral to the transporter room but the nervous energy that Throl’s visit had created didn’t allow him to settle back down in his chair.

The expedition he and his crew had been looking forward to had been put on hold and instead he had been tasked to cross half a quadrant to help out a people suffering from an unknown affliction. Had this been the end of the story, he would not have given the matter another thought, but as was so often the case, there was much more to this seemingly innocuous mission than met the eye, the involvement of his late father’s agency the surest proof of this.

It also couldn’t be a coincidence that Jon Owens had summoned him just a few weeks earlier to his secretive base hidden beneath an old Russian mine to get him to drop everything that mattered in his life to join up with his cause, whatever that may have been.

He had said no at the time, even if after learning of his death due to a heart condition he had kept from him he had wished that he had at least given it some further consideration or at least been less dismissive to his father’s request.

But Jonathan Owens had never shied away from meddling in his Starfleet career, leading many to suspect—him included—that he had pulled the right strings at the right time to get him his own command. It had been a source of constant tension between the two men.

His father had spent most of his early childhood ignoring his existence but when he had managed to drive Matthew—his older brother—away from his family by his constant pressure to follow his own footsteps and join Starfleet, that attention had suddenly shifted on him and Michael had eventually given in. That influence hadn't ended there and for the longest time, Michael had been unable to shake the feeling of his influential father controlling his life from the shadows.

His eyes found the painting of his childhood home which first and foremost reminded him of his better days when his mother had still been alive and before his brother had left it behind for good. Yes, it had been his father's but he had always drawn strength from it, perhaps despite its previous owner. It had served as a reminder where he came from and perhaps what he was trying to leave behind.
Part One: Trust No One - 3 by CeJay
3


“Now passing warp eight point five. Eight point seven. Eight point nine.”

Michael listened closely as Lif Culsten read out their speed from his flight control station positioned at the front of the bridge and to his right, between the star-streaked view screen and the command area.

“Warp nine.”

He felt the ship shudder slightly underneath him. After five years commanding Eagle, he had come to learn the meaning of every shake and tremble, liked to think that he could usually quite accurately predict his ship’s status from the way the floor plating rumbled underneath his boots or from the manner in which his chair vibrated ever so slightly. However, this latest quiver was entirely new to him and it left him puzzled and unsure of what it meant. He didn’t care for that feeling.

“That’s the fastest we’ve been able to make her go,” said Star sitting in her usual chair to his right, her eyes focused on the console to her side.

“Third time’s the charm, is what they say,” Michael said. The last two attempts of pushing the warp sled they had docked with back in the Aldebaran system had ended after the warp field destabilized once the vessel had pushed itself and Eagle embedded within just passed warp eight. Hopkins and her team of engineers had worked on fixing the issue all day and it seemed now, already late in what ordinarily would have been beta shift, that they apparently had found the solution.

“Warp field is stable,” said Alendra who was standing at the aft engineering station and liaising directly with Hopkins and her team in the engine room. “Phase variance is in the green and well below the critical threshold.”

“I’m having a good feeling about this,” said Michael.

“You had a good feeling the last time,” said Deen from her operations console to Culsten’s left without lifting her own gaze from her board.

“I suppose your optimism is rubbing off on me.”
Deen offered no retort which Michael felt wasn’t like her. Of course, she had been much moodier than usual lately, especially since learning that the changed mission to the Amargosa Diaspora and the delay to their expedition had also put a hold on the shipboard concert and its opening act for which she had practiced so hard.

“The ODN connection between Eagle and the sled are within standard parameters,” said Xylion from the science station. “Data transfer rate remains stable.”

Michael acknowledged the report with a quick bop of his head and then glanced towards his first officer. “I say it’s about time we get to see what this sled can do?”

She offered a grin in response. “Agreed,” she said and looked towards the helmsman. “Mister Culsten, if you please.”

The Krellonian nodded eagerly. “Alright, everyone, hold on to your hats. Here we go,” he said and dramatically entered the acceleration commands into his console. “Warp nine point one, point two, point three…”

“Field intensity remains stable,” reported Alendra.

“Warp nine point four, point five.”

Alendra turned from the engineering station. “I’m getting abnormal spikes in the sled’s primary intermix chamber.”

“It’s happening again,” growled So’Dan Leva quietly as he hovered over his tactical board.

But Michael was not willing to give up so quickly. “Can we compensate?”

“Attempting to switch to secondary intermix chamber now,” said the Bolian.

But Xylion had more bad news. “ODN levels are indicating a possible overload in progress.”

The captain turned to look towards his first officer, a dark, almost annoyed frown having replaced his earlier good cheer.

Star nodded slowly, fully cognizant of what this meant. She sighed heavily. “Mister Culsten, shut it down.”



* * *




Nora Laas turned away from the viewport with an eye roll as she noticed the starfield, which just moments ago had been streaking by the ship, having once more turned into the endless and star-dotted vista of outer space.

It were moments like these that she was thankful that she had made the decision to focus all her efforts on being a security officer, instead of pursuing the tactical track and spending the majority of her time on the bridge, staring at instruments and more than likely feeling the frustration of having to witness the third shutdown of the warp sled’s warp engine over the last ten hours.

At their current pace of trial and error, she figured that they would have been better off just ditching the sled altogether and head for the Amargosa Diaspora by using their supposedly much upgraded, native warp engine.

Those, however, were considerations better left to the captain and his bridge crew upstairs on deck one. She had her own issues to deal with as she turned to look at the ten assembled men and women who had made themselves at home in one of Eagle’s smaller crew mess halls.

She successfully managed to stifle a yawn. It was already fairly late and long after her normal duty shift had ended, but just like the bridge crew, she too was working long hours today, mostly because this had been the only time she had managed to get all the people who needed to be part of this meeting into a room together.

It was a wild bunch and one that at first glance looked nothing like a regular Starfleet crew. And of course, they weren't.

There was the tall, caramel-skinned, shorthaired and clearly quite muscular woman everyone apparently just called Diamond. Like with most of the people in this group, who seemed to prefer to go by nicknames, Nora had no idea why she was called this or what her real name was.

The short but stocky Tellarite went by Charm and it wasn't hard to guess that the moniker had been chosen sarcastically. It wasn't exactly a common theme for the rest of the group since the imposing Nausiccan was called Grunt, which seemed to accurately describe his preferred manner of communication. One-Shot was human and apparently unbeatable with a sniper rifle, or so she had been told. Violet had surprisingly luminous violet hair which was not uncommon for Boslic women, and Boom, the Andorian was apparently an explosives expert. The largest member of the team, a massive green-skinned Orion was usually referred to as Junior, Nora guessed because he was also the youngest member of the team. She could only guess how Ivory had gotten her name; the statuesque woman had skin as dark as the void of space and her calm and quiet manner seemed disturbing even for a Vulcan. The team of operatives was led by Chief Petty Officer Reynolds Sensabaugh who everyone simply referred to as Sensy. Perhaps more than the others, he could have passed for a regular member of Starfleet, had it not been for his perfectly bald head and thick beard which covered most of his lower face and which was an uncommon sight amongst the usually more clean-shaven crew.

None of these people wore Starfleet uniforms and instead were dressed in a mixture of combat fatigues or slacks and simple vests and tunics. Violet, the Boslic woman wore a particularly revealing and low-cut top which highlighted her well-endowed chest while Ivory wore the most conservative outfit which at least had some resemblance to a uniform even if it seemed a tighter fit and darker in color than the current service dress.

To Laas, the Niners, as they called themselves, or, more officially, Starfleet Special Missions Team Nineteen, looked more like a group of randomly assembled and lawless mercenaries one would expect to find on a pirate vessel than special operations operatives assigned to a ship of the line.

However, in this meeting, it was she and her deputy, Josè Carlos, who were the odd-men-out in their perfectly pressed uniforms and regulation haircuts.

The Niners had only recently joined Eagle’s crew and on Laas’ own recommendation to supplement her security team and attempt to fill the void left behind by the Marines detachment which had left the ship after two years of great service and sacrifice and who had been deemed no longer a necessity since the Federation was now officially in a state of peace.

The Niners’ overall appearance and a number of other issues were in fact at the center of the meeting’s agenda.

“I don’t understand the issue,” said a flustered Carlos who was sitting at one of the tables with a padd in front of him. “You are all members of Starfleet. Members of Starfleet are expected to wear a Starfleet uniform. It comes with the job.”

“Not with ours, it doesn’t,” quibbled Violet who was leaning back in a chair casually with her boots up on a table, paying the security officer very little attention otherwise.

“It’s not really a choice,” said Carlos.

“Listen, we’ve never worn regular uniforms,” said One-Shot while he was playing with a particularly large combat knife. “I don’t see why we have to start wearing one all of a sudden just because you wanted us to come here to help you. Just don’t add up to me.”

“That’s right,” said Junior, the massive Orion. “Besides they don’t make those clown outfits in my size.”

That caused a round of laughter from his fellow team members. Ivory and Sensabaugh the only ones abstaining.

"I'm fairly certain we could replicate something that would fit you," said Carlos but was mostly drowned out by the amusement which had gripped most of the operatives.

"Alright, guys, let's all shut up for a minute," Sensabaugh barked loudly enough to cause his team to quiet down. Not immediately but his words had an undeniable effect. "We all knew this wasn't going to be an easy transition for either us or the Fleeters," he said and then focused in on the Hispanic security officer. "But they have a point, Lieutenant. SMTs don't usually serve on Starfleet ships, it's not really what we do. You call us in when everything else has failed and you need a quick, surgically precise resolution to a tactical problem. We are not rank and file."

"Exactly," said Diamond, the tall woman who acted as Sensabaugh's second in command. "So you can't treat us as such."

The team leader held up his hand. “No. But perhaps there are some compromises we can make. This is a new role for all of us but the last thing I want to hear is that Niners are not flexible,” he said and regarded his people who were spread out all over the mess hall. “Least we forget that being adaptable is one of our key strengths.”

“Does this mean we have to play dress up and wear colorful uniforms?” Charm the Tellarite growled. “I look terrible in gold.”

“You look terrible in anything,” Violet said with a wide grin.

Laas felt it was time to interject. After all, she had a significant stake in making this arrangement work since it had been her brainchild to bring the special operators onboard when the captain had mulled over the decision of either keeping a full company of combat-trained Marines on board or rather allow civilians to return to Eagle after the two-year moratorium during the war. The much smaller SMT team had seemed like a perfect compromise since they took up only a fraction of the space of a one hundred and fifty men strong contingent thereby making enough room for civilians and still maintaining a highly-specialized combat unit on board. "Compromise is a two-way street, I've been told. I think I can sell the captain and first officer on the idea that a small group of people under their command do not wear uniforms."

This went over well with the operatives. Carlos shot her a surprised look, however.

“But you will need to wear combadges while on duty. And they must be visible at all times, preferably affixed to your left chest.” She glanced over at Violet and the plunging neckline of her vest. “And you will have to maintain a certain dress standard in line with regulations.”

The Boslic’s grin widened. “There is an old saying I like to go by you’ve probably never heard of before. If you’ve got it—“

“It’s that or standard uniforms,” Laas said, cutting her off. “Your choice.”

“Does Starfleet still have those cute little skants?” said One-Shot, shooting Violet a wide grin. “I think you’d look mighty fine in one of those, showing off those nice long gams of yours.”

“Dream on, buddy.”

“You know me too well.”

"I think we can all agree to combadges and sensible clothing on duty," said Sensabaugh sharply.

“What’s sensible, Sensy?” asked Junior. “I mean, do I have to wear a shirt all the time?”

The team leader rolled his eyes. “Your all grown men and women and this isn’t a schoolyard. I trust you all to figure this out, including you Junior.”

“Yes, boss.”

“If in doubt,” said Diamond. “Consult with Ivory, she’s sensible enough to know what proper attire looks like.”

The dark-skinned Vulcan woman offered the barest nod but said nothing at all.

Carlos glanced back at the security chief, looking slightly exasperated by this conversation but Laas simply nodded, letting him know that this was good enough of a compromise in her book. He turned back to the operators. “My next point is joint training and exercise routines. Some of my people have been complaining that you’ve been rather … well, standoffish when it comes to that. Your team acts as an extension of the security department on this ship. We are expected to work together, so it only makes sense that we train together as well.”

Diamond looked at her boss, shaking her head. “That’s not going to work, Sensy. We’re not going to mollycoddle the locals so that they can feel like we’re all together in this.”

“Now wait a minute,” Carlos said sharply, clearly offended by the implications. “We might not be special forces here but we are lead by one of the toughest people I’ve ever known and I’d like to think that it shows in our training.”

“You keep thinking that,” said Charm who clearly didn’t have the word diplomacy in his vocabulary. “I don’t care if your chief is the second coming of Kahless the Unforgettable and Attila the Hun all rolled up into one, whatever little games you and your people play on the holodeck is nothing compared to what we train for pretty much every waking hour of the day. You wouldn’t last ten minutes going through what we do.”

One-Shot winced slightly at Charms gruff tone and aimed Nora Laas a slightly contrite look. “You know, no offense.”

“None taken,” she said quickly. “It’s been a long time since I’ve felt insulted by the words of a Tellarite.”

Violet guffawed at that. “Hear that, Charm? Sounds like you really need to up your game here.”

“The point we’re trying to make,” said Diamond, “is that we don’t really play well with others. We’re not like the Marines. We are an extremely fine-tuned machine, each one of us performing a vital role. When we say we train and work as a unit, we really mean that. And it’s a formula that just doesn’t work if you add a whole bunch of other elements to the mix.”

“I have to agree with her, Lieutenant,” said Sensabaugh. “I still think that having us here on Eagle could work for the both of us. If you insist on trying to integrate my team into your security department, I won't stop you, but I will guarantee that you will not get the efficiency and effectiveness you were hoping for when you got us to sign-up to this gig."

Nora nodded slowly. “Very well, we’ll do it your way. As long as I can rely on you and your people to follow my orders and do what needs to be done when you are called upon.”

“Facta non verba.”

Nora aimed the Vulcan a surprised look. It had been the first time she had heard the other woman speak.

“That’s the creed,” said Diamond and all her fellow operatives nodded along silently to underscore the motto by which they lived by. Deeds. Not Words.
Part One: Trust No One - 4 by CeJay
4


The speaking hall was packed to the seams with rapt listeners who had traveled long and far to hear this speech and even he could not deny a certain amount of excitement about hearing what he had to say. Very few people commanded quite the same amount of respect, not politicians, nor scientists or entertainers and yet the speaker was a bit of all three. He had been greeted as he stepped onto the stage with thunderous applause.

“We have entered into our greatest age.” His opening words had the audience spellbound. It was perhaps the folly of men to believe that their generation was superior to all that had come before; that they were wiser and knew better than anyone who had preceded them. That it was their destiny to surpass all previous generations.

"We have entered this marvelous age because, after thousands of cycles of intelligent life on this planet, we have finally understood the true purpose of our collective existence. We have glimpsed the future of our kind and we are willing and able to grasp it and become that which we were always meant to be."

The speaker walked across the stage, seemingly looking at each and everyone in attendance and feeding off their enthusiasm.

“We now know that what has held us back all this time has been the physical limitations of our forefathers who were enslaved to the feeble limits of the rotten shells they inhabited. Their lives were intrinsically linked to bodies which would fail them just when their minds were ready to fully comprehend what it meant to be alive.

But we have now at last conquered this deficiency by developing shells which give us abilities we never even dreamed of before and for the first time allowing us to truly evolve as a people by allowing our minds to develop over centuries instead of over just a few cycles.”


It was no longer possible to deny that the temperatures which had been climbing steadily over the last fifty cycles were now beginning to show their toll on the general populace. It had become much more fashionable for those who could afford it to relocate away from the regions close to the equator which for centuries had contained the most popular cities thanks to the high levels of sunshine and comfortably warm climate during all seasons.

The official statements from government scientist proclaimed that the sun was undergoing a period of increased solar flare activity which was likely going to last a few decades while the system’s lone star underwent a period of rapid expansion which the scientists claimed was no significant concern and simply a natural occurrence of the stellar transformation due to its age.

Once the star had fully completed this transformation, so the scientists claimed, solar flare activity would once again drop significantly and temperatures would once more return to the usual levels.


"The progress we have made on our shells has been indisputable," the speaker had said. "Only a few hundred cycles ago, the temporarily increased temperatures we are currently experiencing would have led to widespread medical conditions but thanks to having evolved beyond our need for purely biological bodies, the new environment we now find ourselves in hasn't been much more than a minor inconvenience.

We have eliminated the majority of all ailments our forebears would have had to endure because of the eventual breakdown of their biological processes. We are able to perform physical tasks without concerns over the limitations of our bodies and as a result have been able to undertake projects which have reshaped our entire world and advanced our civilization.

For a great many of us we have been able to ensure that our shells match precisely the way we see ourselves and have been granted the unrestricted freedom to express ourselves in whatever form we wish and continue to do so whenever we replace our outer forms and thereby increase our longevity and our capacity for expanding our minds further than anyone has ever considered possible.”


The promised halt to the rising temperatures never came. Instead they continued to climb with each new cycle until the government had little choice but to focus the energy of almost the entire available workforce to undertake the most ambitious civil works project in the history of their people by constructing elaborate underground cities, some of which rivaled those found above the surface and which were being deserted by more and more of its inhabitants.

Soon it was no longer feasible to leave one’s home during daytime hours due to the relentless heat and depending to the season, people migrated to cooler parts of the planet until almost the entire population spent the majority of its time below the surface.


"Some have argued that we should have focused our great energies on developing other technologies instead of perfecting the synthetic shell. Some voices have tried to get us to abandon our greatest enterprise to instead divert our energies on some far-fetched notions as cloning or space travel. But instead of exploring the stars, we as a people have chosen to answer a much greater calling. We have chosen to explore our own minds and souls in order to fulfill our truest potential.

Instead of looking beyond our world for answers, we are looking within ourselves to explore the true limitations of what it means to be a sentient being. And once we have unlocked this promise, we will find that there will no longer be any barriers to stand in the way of what we can accomplish as a people.

Our future will be filled with unlimited possibilities as we will be able to achieve whatever we will set our minds to.”


For all the obvious signs that had existed for many cycles, the day the world ended still came upon them all as a surprise. The government had refused to acknowledge the true scope of the crisis until the bitter end. With no viable alternatives to escape the death of their planet, the decision was made to let the populace die in ignorance, instead of allowing them a chance to prepare for the end.

He had been one of the very few privileged persons who had known what was coming and as such had enjoyed the dubious honor of having a front-row seat to the apocalypse.

The unbearable heat, the sky turning into colors entirely unnatural and never once seen before, the sudden demise and then death of flora and fauna, the breakdown of communications as the satellites in orbit stopped working and then burned up in the sky, the failure and breakdown of technology and finally the mass extinction of an entire people, all this within mere hours.

The world had ended.

He survived.


Bensu awoke with a start.

He required a few moments to remember that he was exactly where he was supposed to be, in his quarters on the starship Eagle.

Looking out of the viewport beside his bed he could see that the ship was currently traveling at high warp, most likely thanks to the warp sled they were docked with but which he could not see from his window.

Looking at the star field deceptively streaking past the ship made him feel even queasier than he already did. Covered in sweat, he climbed out of his bed and walked over into the refresher to splash some cool water on his face.

The tired looking visage that glanced back at him through the mirror, the roundish face, the dark green, almond-shaped eyes, the dark skin and his hairless head with its multiple white bony ridges which ran from his forehead all the way to his neck, it was the exact same face he had seen in his dreams. It was the same face, the same body, of the man who had survived the end of his world.

Except, of course, it wasn't.

That body had died with the rest of Celerias a very long time ago.

This body was much newer but modeled almost precisely on the one he had once occupied.

How or why he had survived the destruction of his world, he didn’t know. In fact, he had only very recently learned about that previous existence at all, thanks to an excursion to the Vulcan’s Forge with his long-time friend Xylion. The same man who had come across his katra as a child some seventy years earlier and with whom he had shared a mind for over half a century.

Xylion had hoped that retracing their steps which had led to this very unusual bond between them so long ago would provide answers to their many questions. As it turned out the answers had only raised more questions.

And dreams.

Ever since he had managed to unlock some of the memories of his former life, he'd had the same dreams, or rather nightmares, of Celerias' elites espousing the many great virtues of the synthetic bodies which had become such an important part of the people's lives during the last few hundred cycles before their word's ultimate demise.

A glance at the chronometer brought him out of his sad reflections, realizing that he was going to be late for his shift behind the bar in the Nest, the ship’s main crew lounge, if he delayed much further.

Like he had done on so many other occasions lately, he decided to leave the past where it belonged and instead prepared himself for the day ahead and making sure that he put on the face that people on Eagle had come to expect from him. One that was always willing to listen and never seemed to show the slightest hint of his own, and as of late, increasing tribulations.



* * *



While his two lunch companions hadn’t noticed, it had not escaped his meticulous attention to detail that Bensu had not been behind the bar as was usually the case at this time of the day when he had entered the Nest along with Tazla Star and DeMara Deen.

As they often did, Xylion and his companions had chosen a table on the upper level of the Nest and near the sloped and forward-facing windows which usually allowed for a great view of outer space but which were currently obstructed by the warp sled to which Eagle was attached to and which after a few, frustrating attempts, had finally allowed the ship to travel far faster than it would have been under its own power.

“Not much of a view today. Or for the next few days for that matter,” said DeMara Deen as she picked a chair, selecting the one which faced away from the windows and instead gave her a direct line of sight of Goldie, the man-high, golden statue of the Terran eagle captured with its wings fully unfurled.

“Just until we reach Arkaria,” said Star. “If we had continued towards Seven Sisters we would have had to put up with this view for at least three weeks.
“Not sure if that makes up for it. I wouldn’t have minded sacrificing the view in exchange for a real exploratory mission,” said Deen.

The first officer nodded in agreement. “Hopefully we’ll still get the chance once this current mission is resolved. Besides, I can’t wait for that concert. I’ve heard great things.”

“Not from Michael, I’m sure. He’s still fuming over the fact that I decided against opera.”

Xylion could see that Star seemed slightly confused by that response and he wondered if DeMara Deen had exaggerated the captain's feelings over her choice of performance act. The young Tenarian wasn't prone to embellishments as many other more emotional people he had met over the years. She was, however, one of the most emotional and therefore often difficult to predict.

Since Deen clearly did not seem willing to elaborate on her statement, he decided to take the conversation in a different direction. "Has the captain made a decision on briefing the crew? As of yet we have not been given any indication of the nature of this new assignment which has already preempted a carefully planned expedition."

Star shook her head. “Not yet. But he will soon. Probably once we get to Arkaria. The captain doesn’t like keeping secrets from the crew. And trust me, he was just as excited about the Pleiades as you were,” she said with a little grin. “He’ll do whatever he can to make sure we get this latest mission resolved as soon as possible and get us back to do what we were meant to.”

“Excited is not the term I would have used,” he said. “However, a significant amount of planning has been invested to ensure the success of our exploratory assignment.”
“Of course,” she said, still grinning. “And I’m sure you’re simply expressing the missed opportunity to satisfy your scientific curiosity.”

“Not just mine, Commander. Any exploratory mission has the potential to further the scientific knowledge of the entire Federation.”

“Naturally.”

“Anyone seen Bensu?” said Deen, looking around. “Isn’t he usually already serving us by the time we sit down?”

Star offered the younger woman a frown. “The replicators are just over there if you can’t wait. It’s not part of his job to serve us.”

But before Deen could offer a retort, the resident bartender did appear, climbing up the spiral staircase while skillfully balancing a full tray. “Apologies for the delay, folks.”

“None are required,” Star said and shot Deen a quick look. “We are perfectly happy to serve ourselves.”

“Nonsense,” Bensu said. “The hardest working officers on this ship deserve a little bit of pampering now and then,” he said and began to distribute the food and drinks he had brought. “Plain boring Plomeek soup and a Vulcan mocha for you, Xylion,” he said and placed a bowl and cup in front of him. “A chicken club sandwich and raktajino for the commander and a baba ghanoush with a Tamarin frost for the lieutenant.”

Deen looked at her beverage for a moment.

Bensu noticed. “Something the matter with your usual choice?”

She bit her lower lip. “Actually, I feel like something a little different today if you don’t mind.”

Star appeared mildly annoyed by Deen’s insistence on making things more difficult but Bensu seemed more than happy to accommodate her. “Of course. What can I get you instead?”

“How about a Supernova?”
Bensu visibly froze and simply stared back at the Tenarian as if she had just grown a second head.

Deen briefly glanced towards Star, uncertain why her request had prompted this response. “Is there … something wrong with that?”
When the bartender remained unresponsive, the Trill first officer gently touched his shoulder. “Bensu, are you alright?”

He turned to look at Star. “Huh?”

“Is something the matter? You seem out of sorts.”

Bensu quickly shook his head, offering her and Deen a beaming smile again. “No, no of course not. I’ll get you that drink now.”

But Star was not willing to let the matter go quite so quickly. “Are you sure? You really zoned out there for a moment.”

Bensu kept his confident smile. “It’s nothing to worry about. To tell you the truth, I get a little dizzy when traveling at very high warp speeds. It usually goes away after a while,” he said, picked up the unwanted Tamarin frost, placed it back on his tray and then quickly departed to fetch the replacement.

“Do you think he’s alright?” Deen whispered to the others.

“Perhaps next time, just get your own drink,” Star said.

“Sensations of disorientation are not uncommon in many humanoid races when exposed to excessive warp velocities. Considering that Eagle has never traveled at this speed for extended periods of time, it is not entirely unexpected that some persons may experience discomfort.”

“It would help if we knew what race Bensu belongs to,” said Deen.

“If he doesn’t know—“

Star didn’t get to finish her sentence and she stopped herself suddenly when she spotted Xylion jump onto his feet.

He had watched Bensu carefully after he had left the table, possessing a great amount of certainty as to what had prompted his odd reaction to Deen's drink choice. After all, he had shared the memories Bensu had only recently unlocked via a mind meld he had facilitated.

Even while Xylion had spoken, he had observed Bensu sway slightly in his walk and when it had become clear that he was about to collapse, he had quickly stood up to get to him before he could reach the staircase.

He was not quite fast enough to keep Bensu from losing his grip on the tray he was carrying which, along with the beverage it still carried, crashed loudly onto the deck, followed a moment later by Bensu himself.

Star and Deen jumped up from their seats as well.

Thanks to the head start, Xylion was by Bensu’s side first and already tried to help him back up and onto a nearby empty chair when the other two joined him.

“Bensu, are you alright? What happened?” Deen asked with obvious concern.

“I don’t know, I just got really dizzy for a moment and next thing I know, I’m on the floor.”

Star was already looking him over for injuries. “Are you hurt?”

He shook his head once he was in the chair. “Nothing but my pride, Commander. Pretty darn clumsy of me.”

“Maybe we should take you to sickbay,” said Deen.

Bensu quickly shook his head. “I’ll be alright. As I said I just get a little dizzy at high warp. I probably just need to catch my breath and then I should be perfectly fine again,” he said and tried to stand up but Star had put a firm grasp on his shoulder, keeping him from leaving the chair.

“I’d be much more comfortable if Eli gets to look you over first.”

Xylion knew that she was referring to Elijah Katanga, Eagle’s veteran chief physician whom Tazla Star’s previous host had been a close friend to. He also understood precisely why Bensu didn’t like the idea of being examined by a doctor. “We seem to understand what has brought on his loss of balance. It is doubtful that Doctor Katanga would be able to significantly add to this diagnosis.”

Star aimed him an almost puzzled look which quickly morphed into a more determined expression. “Regardless, I want him checked over. He may have been injured without knowing it. Or there might be a remedy for his condition.”

Bensu glanced up at the Trill with an almost pleading expression on his face. “Commander, that’s really not necessary. I’ll just go get some rest and take it easy until I’ve fully acclimated to racing across the stars.”

Xylion could tell from the look in Star’s eyes that she had made her decision and was not going to be swayed. “You’re going to sickbay, Mister. And just to make sure you get there, I’ll take you myself.”

Bensu uttered a resigned sigh. “Very well, Commander.”

“I shall accompany you as well,” Xylion said and shortly after all three of them set out to take Bensu to the medical bay.

As it turned out, Xylion’s prediction as to the level of assistance Doctor Katanga could provide Bensu had been fairly accurate. With his patient sitting somewhat restlessly on the biobed with both Xylion and Star nearby, the octogenarian physician ran a number of tests on Bensu seemingly without much success.

“Anything you can do?” Star said with her arms crossed in front of her as she watched on as the doctor had just completed a third scan.

Katanga didn’t respond to the question as if he had not heard her speak at all. Xylion observed a noticeable frown growing on the Trill’s face, clearly not appreciating the way she had been rebuffed.

Not for the first time Xylion took note that a number of crewmembers who he understood to be on friendly terms with each other acting in rather unexpected ways as of late. And also not for the first time did he realize how much simpler and less confusing interactions between Vulcans were compared to those of races who insisted on displaying their emotions so openly.

“I’m fine,” said Bensu and looked over his shoulder at Star. “It’s just as I told you earlier. A bit of space sickness and nothing a good rest cannot fix.”

“I would thank you to leave the diagnosis to the professionals,” said Katanga sharply.

“Which is?” said Star.

Katanga looked up to at least acknowledge her presence this time but said nothing and returned to consider the readouts of his tricorder instead and murmuring quietly to himself.

Bensu continued when the doctor did not offer an answer. “I just really hate making a fuzz over this and wasting everyone’s time.”

“The wellbeing of every member of this crew, Starfleet and civilian alike, is never a waste of time,” Star said, sounding just as crisp as the doctor had.

Katanga nodded. “Quite so,” he said without affording the Trill a look. “You are a most interesting individual, Mister Bensu.”

“Just Bensu will do, Doctor.”

“Right. What race of people did you say you belonged to?”

Bensu glanced at Xylion before answering. “Well, there is no easy answer to that question, I’m afraid.”

Katanga looked at his patient before following his glance towards the Vulcan.

Xylion squared his shoulders and clasped his hands behind his back. “Bensu’s exact origins have not been determined. It is a matter we have both explored in some detail and continue to do so.”

“Interesting,” said Katanga, more to himself than to anyone else in sickbay.

“But not entirely uncommon,” said Star. “I appreciate it is not the same circumstance but my own parentage is somewhat of a mystery.”

Xylion recalled that according to Tazla Star’s personnel file, she, or rather the host which had later merged with the Star symbiont had been either orphaned or possibly abandoned while she had been an infant.

“Perhaps. But in your case there was never a doubt that you are a Trill,” said Katanga. “Whereas what we have with you, Bensu, is a complete mystery as to your origins. And what I can tell from my surface readings, you possess a very remarkable anatomy which I would be quite interested in studying further.”

Bensu stood. "If it is all the same to you, Doctor, I would rather return to my quarters and rest. Unless, of course, there is something specific you think you can do for me. Without any further examinations, that is."

“To be honest, with that unique anatomy of yours I wouldn’t even know where to begin and it would be quite reckless to simply prescribe you something without having a closer look at what makes your body tick. But I believe we absolutely should schedule some time to have a closer look at you. Not just to satisfy my own medical curiosity, but we might find further clues to your own origins as well as be better prepared for any medical emergencies you may suffer in the future.”

Bensu offered Katanga a wide grin. “I promise I will consider that kind offer, Doctor.”

“You know, I could make that an order. As the chief medical officer of this ship I do have that authority.”

Xylion considered Katanga very carefully. “I believe, Doctor, that since Bensu is a civilian, you will find that there are certain limitations to your authority concerning any non-essential medical procedures.”

“Of course, I forgot that you swallowed the Starfleet rulebook when you were a child,” Katanga said with a good-natured smile to which Xylion merely raised an eyebrow. The doctor turned back to Bensu who was clearly ready to leave sickbay. “I apologize, I didn’t mean for that to sound like a threat, nor would I ever suggest to misuse my authority in such a manner. I merely want to make sure that we’ll be able to treat you should the occasion arise.”

Bensu was clearly not offended. “Thank you, Doctor, I do appreciate your concern. And as I said, I will consider what you have said. Now if you will all excuse me, I think I’ve already taken up more than enough of your time today.”

“You’ll be heading straight back to your quarters to rest for the remainder of the day, won’t you?” said Star.

He gave her a firm nod. “You have my word, Commander.”

“I will ensure you reach your quarters without further incident,” said Xylion.

“And Bensu, if you experience any other—“

“Rest assured you would be the first person I call, Doctor. Thank you again. All of you,” he said and then headed for the exit with Xylion following closely behind.



* * *




Tazla Star remained behind after Xylion and Bensu had left, and for a moment simply watched on as Katanga began clearing up the instruments he had used to unsuccessfully attempt to diagnose his patient. “What are your thoughts on Bensu?” she asked after a moment of awkward silence had passed.

He finished putting away the instruments and shrugged. “He doesn’t like doctors. Certainly wouldn’t be the first iatrophobic person I’ve come across in my career,” he said and then headed towards his office.

“Eli?”

When he refused to stop, Tazla followed him. “Alright, mind telling me when all this is going to stop?”

He took his seat behind his desk and picked up a padd without gracing her with another look. “When is what going to stop?”

She uttered a heavy sigh at his insistence on sticking with these immature antics, particularly considering that he had celebrated his eighty-eighth birthday not to long ago. “Aren’t you getting a little too old for these childish games and holding on to grudges?”

At that, he did look her in the eye. "I don't know, Taz, shouldn't you know better, with those many lifetimes of experiences inside that slug of yours, than to betray your closest friends."
“That’s a bit melodramatic.”

"I don't think so. You acted against my implicit wishes by issues an apology in my name regarding a decision we made over sixty years ago and which I still fully stand by to this day. I would call that a betrayal."

“Fine,” she said and took a few steps closer. “And I apologized for doing it. How much longer are you planning to punish me for it?”

He uttered a little humorless laugh. “You apologize for a mistake or maybe an error of judgment. You knew exactly what you were doing and you were fully aware that I didn’t wish you to do it.”

She nodded. “I made a command decision. And in the process ensured the Federation maintained a vital trade ally.”

“Exactly,” he said. “You aren’t sorry at all. You did what you needed to do and clearly would do it all over again in the same situation. That’s not regret. You are looking for forgiveness.”

"I am sorry that you're so upset over this," she said, trying to offer an olive branch.

“Well, you should have considered that before you chose to take that particular path. As you’ve said, you’ve made a command decision. Now you will need to live with the consequences.”

Star realized that there was no winning her argument. “You’ve always been the most stubborn man I’ve known,” she said and headed for the doors. She turned back to look at him before she left. “Just you make sure this will not become one of those things you’ve end up regretting. We’ve been friends too long to let something like this come between us.” She held out a tiny bit of hope that she’d be able to get through to him but when he refused to look back up from his padd, she uttered another sigh and left Katanga to steam on his own.



* * *




Xylion and Bensu hadn’t spoken after leaving sickbay and until they had reached the turbolift and even then Bensu didn’t talk until the young enlisted man with whom they were sharing the car had stepped out after arriving at his destination.

“Thank you for your support in sickbay,” Bensu said without even looking at his friend.

“I am not entirely comfortable with obfuscating my knowledge of what we have learned regarding your origins.”

He turned to look at the Vulcan. “You said it yourself, I’m not in Starfleet. It is my choice if I wish to share this knowledge with other people. I am not subject to the same regulations as a member of Starfleet.”

"Perhaps not. However, you are a member of this crew and this community. Therefore you have certain obligations to ensure the safety and wellbeing of this crew and not to compromise either."

“Xylion, the moment I believe that I might be putting anyone on this ship at risk I’d be more than willing to be forthcoming about anything I know. Or perhaps even leave Eagle if I must. But while that is not the case, I'd rather not advertise that I come from a race of extinct beings who transplanted their minds into cybernetic bodies or that I somehow managed to survive the destruction of an entire planet only to end up being a passenger inside your head. I'm also not so sure how people would react to us building this synthetic body in secret and transferring my consciousness."

“It would not be a simple explanation,” Xylion acknowledged.

“No, it certainly wouldn’t. Nor am I interested in becoming a science project to be studied and dissected.”

“Federation law protects all sentient beings. It is unlikely you would be subjected to any treatment against your will.”

The turbolift arrived on the deck Bensu’s quarters were located on and the doors opened. “Let’s just say I don’t want to put those laws to the test,” he said and left the lift with Xylion following closely.

“I take it you have continued to experience dreams of your former existence.”

He nodded. “Far too regularly than I care for. And I wasn’t lying about the dizziness at high warp. I’ve always had that.”

“That might be related to your physiology.”
“I am thinking the same thing. After all my people never really experienced space travel thanks to their enormously foolish shortsightedness.”

“And yet their accomplishments in creating cybernetic bodies cannot be disregarded.”

They both stopped outside the doors leading into Bensu’s quarters. “Really? Tell me, how many other Celerians have you met?”

“I understand that to be a rhetorical query since the answer to your question is obvious and meant to imply that none other have survived the destruction of their homeworld.”

Bensu offered him a large smirk. “Looks like sharing a mind with you for all those years has really rubbed off on you.”

Xylion raised an eyebrow. “I suggest we engage in mediation techniques to try and address your ailment and your recurring nightmares. We might be able to uncover more about your origins in doing so.”

But Bensu quickly shook his head. "To be honest, I'd rather not. I've had enough meditation to last me a lifetime when we shared a mind. Besides, what else is there to learn? These people focused all their attention on building shiny, new bodies to live longer, to be smarter and to be stronger. And then, when their planet suddenly died, they all died along with it. End of story."

“Evidently not. You remain.”

"Yes, lucky me," he said and yawned. "I have to be honest, all this excitement has tired me out. Besides, I've promised the good doctor and Commander Star that I'd be resting for what's left of the day. I think I'll do just that. Let's leave the past where it belongs, burned up and annihilated a very long time ago and very far away from here." With that, he turned and disappeared into his quarters.
Part One: Trust No One - 5 by CeJay
5


After a few initial teething troubles with the experimental warp sled, the rest of the three day journey at high warp had turned out to be mostly problem free and both Hopkins and Xylion agreed that the technology was sound, reassuring Michael that it should be able to take Eagle all the way to the Pleiades once the time finally came.

Of course, the trip from the Federation core to Arkaria and the Amargosa Diaspora, deeper inside the Beta Quadrant was merely a stone’s throw compared to the far more distant star cluster.

“Disengaging warp drive in five, four, three, two, one.”

True to Culsten’s countdown the starfield which had seemingly streaked past Eagle for the last three days returned once more to its only slightly less deceptive fixed state and Michael could once more feel the slight groan of the ship’s deck plates as Eagle returned to the calmer surrounds of normal space after their seventy-two-hour sprint.

“At least disengaging the warp sled is much less complicated than getting it to start up,” said Deen from operations. “Location confirmed. We are just outside the Arkaria system. One final warp jump should get us where we need to be.”

As a safety precaution, they had avoided setting a course which would have had them drop out right inside a populated system or for that matter even pointed at one with what amounted to a super-powered missile strapped to the outer hull. If something had gone wrong with the shutdown sequence, Eagle would have found itself barreling right through empty space instead of needlessly endangering a populated world.

“Mister Xylion, Miss Alendra, if you would be so kind as to get us out of our rocket pack. I think it’s time for us to part ways again,” said Michael, offering Tazla Star a quick smirk which she quickly reciprocated.

“Beginning decoupling sequence,” announced the science officer. “Sled drives are powering down.”

"Antimatter generators on the sled deactivated. Main power reduced to standby mode," added Alendra from the engineering station at the rear of the bridge. "Now disengaging umbilicals."

“ODN connections are disconnected. The warp sled is now in autonomous operational mode,” said Xylion.

“All umbilicals and connectors are released, Captain. We are clear to maneuver away from the sled,” said Alendra and looked towards the command area.

Michael nodded. “Helm, push us off, maneuvering thrusters only. Nice and easy, Lif.”

Culsten began to tap away at his console. “Thrusters engaged. Pushing off at ten meters per second.”

Star turned to her own console and after activating the right commands, the view screen angle changed to show the bulky warp sled which Eagle had been attached to over the last few days slowly moving away.

“It’s sure not much to look at,” said Deen.

“It did its job,” said Leva.

“Eventually,” she added.

“Distance now one thousand kilometers,” said Culsten, keeping a close eye on his instruments.

“Mister Leva, make a note of its location. It wouldn’t do if we lost Starfleet R&Ds newest toy out here,” said Michael.

Leva nodded. “Location marked in the log.”

Star glanced towards the ceiling. “Bridge to engineering.”

A response came quickly. “Engineering. Hopkins here.”

“How does that new engine look? We ready to turn our own power back on?” Star asked.

“Ready whenever you are.”

Michael rose from his chair. “What’s the status of the engine overall? I appreciate you didn’t get nearly as much time to configure it as you would have liked.”

“That’s true, sir,” she responded. “I can give you anything up to warp eight with a fair amount of confidence. But I’d rather not strain her too quickly until we’ve had more time to work out all the kinks.”

Star frowned at that and considered the captain. “I don’t like the idea of not having a fully powered warp engine at our disposal. Feels like we’ve got one hand tied behind our backs.”

He nodded, feeling much the same way.

But Hopkins responded before he had a chance. “The engine is rated up to warp nine point nine six and I can probably give you that in a crunch if you really need it. I’d just rather not go too fast for a little while.”

“Message received, Lieutenant,” said Michael. “We’ll try to be accommodating. And we won’t need a whole lot of power to get is into Arkaria.”

Culsten picked that one up. "No, sir. A quick warp-two jump will get us there in a few minutes. Will hardly even have to touch that dial."

“Excellent, lay in the course and engage when ready,” said Michael and once Hopkins was off the comm again, making sure to oversee a warp engine which had laid mostly dormant over the last three days.

Moments later Eagle engaged at her own power. And not long after that that they were already inbound on the green-hued planet of Arkaria Prime.

“Approaching the planet at half impulse, sir,” said Culsten.

Michael could already see the large Remmler Array in the planet's orbit consisting of two massive, grid-shaped planar generators which were designed to expose any ship docked inside the array and between the generators with powerful baryon sweeps to eliminate particles which accumulated on a starship's hull when traveling at warp speed. Since bayron particles were particularly common around dense star clusters like the Amargosa Diaspora, the Remmler Array in the Arkaria system was particularly busy and it came as little surprise then that a starship was currently being prepared to be serviced by the array.

From what Michael could tell it was a Starfleet vessel and a familiar one at that.

“It’s the Agamemnon, sir,” said Deen and turned in her chair to glance at him. “Did you know she was out here?”

He shook his head. This was news to him. However, in hindsight, he realized that he shouldn’t have been surprised. Not since he already suspected that Amaya Donners, the captain of the Agamemnon and his close friend from his Academy days, had been working with his late father, having apparently met with him just days before his sudden passing on Earth.

He could feel Star’s eyes on him as well. It wasn’t a well-kept secret that he and Amaya had become more than friends recently. She most likely wondered how it was then that he had not known that she was out here, at the exact same place they had been called to on short notice and after their well-planned and prepared exploration mission to the Pleiades had been so suddenly suspended.

He was wondering the exact same thing.

“We are receiving a message from the Agamemnon, sir,” said Leva from the tactical station. “Captain Donners is requesting permission to beam onboard.”

Michael nodded. “Lif, get us in transporter range, I’ll be in transporter room two,” he said and quickly departed the bridge.

Amaya Donners materialized on the transporter pad just moments after he had stepped into the room. Her brilliant eyes found him quickly. "Permission to come aboard."

He nodded and watched her step down the platform. “Fancy meeting you here.”

She offered him a little grin. “I was in the neighborhood.”

“Sounds to me there is a bit more to it than that.”

The tall, caramel-skinned starship captain nodded. “Perhaps. And I promise I’ll tell you all about it. But first I need you to head towards Arkaria IX. I’ll hitch a ride with you if you don’t mind since my ship’s in the shop right now.”

“Is that where we’re meeting Jarik?” he said.

She answered with a subdued nod even while she was already heading for the doors. Michael may have won that race to the captain’s chair they had both embarked on even while they had still been cadets, but here, on his ship, she was behaving like a veteran Starfleet commander, no longer used to waiting for others and expecting people to follow her lead.

He tailed her out of the room and into the corridor as she confidently headed for the nearest turbolift as if she was still on her own ship. “Are you going to tell me anything about why I’m here? Not that I’m not glad to see you again since we had so little time together on Earth.”

In truth, he still felt a slight tinge of bitterness that he had found out that Maya had not only been on Earth while he had been there, he was also fairly confident she had at one point been in the same building, but had not found it necessary to reach out to him until his father’s funeral. It had been a little over a year now since they had taken their relationship to a new level, and thanks to the war and their busy schedules, they had managed to see each other in person only a handful of times during that period. Starship captains tended to partake in the most extreme version of long distance relationships simply by virtue of their chosen occupation. It made it all the more frustrating that she had chosen not to take advantage of their most recent opportunity to spend time together during a time in which he could really have used the company.

They stepped into the turbolift together and it was she who called out for the bridge as their destination. She glanced at him for a moment before she spoke, perhaps sensing what he was thinking. “Michael, I’m really sorry about your father. He was a—“

“Great man, yes, I know,” he said with perhaps a little more annoyance than he had planned. “Forgive me, but I’ve heard that line quite a bit lately.”

She nodded. “I know that you and your father didn’t get along very well and I understand that there is a difference between a public persona and the one shared by friends and family. I can see how he could not have been an easy man to live with.”

“Not to mention having him as your father.”

“Regardless of how challenging this may have been for you, he was still your father and I wish I could have been there for you after he passed. Trust me, if I could have been I would have,” she said, sounding sincere.

“You don’t have to apologize to me for being a Starfleet captain.”

They arrived on the bridge and once again it was she who walked out first, striding onto the bridge as if she owned the place. Michael tried to not let it bother him.

“Captain Donners,” Star said as she stood and greeted the other woman. “Welcome onboard.”

“Commander Star,” she said and shook hands with the Trill. “It is good to meet you again.”

Michael thought it was remarkable how easy it came to Amaya to pretend to like somebody. He was fairly certain that she didn’t think much of his formerly disgraced first officer, she had pretty much told him as much after she had learned that she had been assigned to Eagle. It was impossible to discern any of that from the bright smile she offered Star. The brief greeting also made him realize that they had shared no physical contact at all after she had arrived in the transporter room, not even something as innocuous as a handshake.

“You look well, Dee,” she told DeMara next. “One of these days you will have to share that Tenarian secret with me that keeps you eternally young.”

“You look very well yourself, Captain,” she responded with an equally friendly smile. “I don’t believe you need any tips from me.” DeMara had briefly served with Amaya at the same time as Michael had on the ill-fated Columbia under the late Captain Mendez.

With the greetings out of the way, all eyes turned expectedly towards Michael again, anticipating new instructions, including Maya’s who may have felt comfortable on another captain’s bridge but was well aware that there were certain lines you didn’t cross. One of which was to give orders to somebody else’s crew.

“Mister Culsten, get us to Arkaria IX please.”

“Aye, sir. Course set, engaging at full impulse. ETA, fifteen minutes.”

He noticed that Amaya kept her eyes on the Krellonian officer at the helm for a little longer than was necessary. Considering what Throl had told him about their mission, he thought he knew why. “Gives us a little time to catch-up,” he said to her and pointed at the doors leading to his ready room. “Can I offer you a quick drink?”

She shook her head. "I think it would be better if I prepared for our next meeting. I'll see you back in the transporter room in fifteen," she said and then raised a hand when he was about to speak up again. "No need to for an escort," she said with a playful smile which felt designed to deflect from her brusque attitude. "I tend to know my way around a starship." With that, she quickly ducked back into the turbolift.

Both Star and Deen quickly returned to their duties, trying to avoid eye contact with the obviously snubbed captain.

Michael quietly took his seat, trying and failing to avoid the awkwardness which had suddenly settled over the bridge.
Part One: Trust No One - 6 by CeJay
6


Starfleet’s Department of Special Affairs and Investigations had an obvious affinity for underground installations, Michael Owens mused after he had visited his father’s out of the way base located underneath an old diamond mine located in Siberia on Earth just a few weeks earlier and now, after having beamed into what looked like yet another subterranean facility below the surface of the ninth planet of the Arkaria system.

However, while the Russian base had clearly been a Starfleet installation with the same streamlined interior design to give it the look and feel that was so common among ships and bases throughout the Federation, the facility on Arkaria IX had obviously been designed by someone with very different aesthetic sensibilities and which seemed to predate Starfleet by a few centuries at least.

Michael took a moment to appreciate the wide and high, slightly inward curved corridors which almost appeared as if they had been designed for a people much taller than the average humanoid. The décor was mostly painted in dark brownish and amber colors and there was a noticeable alien hieroglyph-like script running along the walls which he didn’t recognize.

He had a strong suspicion that this place had not been built by the inhabitants of Arkaria Prime and was tempted to ask Amaya about this place to satisfy his own curiosity.

However, his fellow starship captain had remained uncharacteristically aloof ever since she had come aboard and even more so now since they had beamed down into this mysterious place.

He had an inkling that he could thank his father for Amaya’s sudden need for secretiveness since that had been very much his specialty and a never-ending source of frustration for him. His father was gone but it seemed that he had managed to pull other people he cared about into his web of secrecy and lies. It was difficult not to resent him for that.

That Amaya was heavily involved with whatever was happening here was obvious since she led him through the maze of wide corridors with the confidence of somebody who had been here before, even nodding at a few people they encountered with familiarity. Like the base in Russia, this one too was staffed with a mixture of Starfleet officers and non-uniformed civilian personnel.

After a few mostly quiet minutes traversing the complex, they reached a large oval shaped room which seemed to function as a control center judging by the many computer stations arranged here and personnel monitored various screens. A partition had been set up at the far end which led into a meeting room of sorts comprised of a large and round conference table surrounded by a number of chairs, one of which was occupied by Jarik.

The tall Vuclan man quickly stood upon seeing them entering the room, a large smile decorating his lips as he approached Eagle’s captain. “Michael, good to see you again, old friend,” he said and quickly grabbed his hand before following it up with a friendly hug.

Jarik was wearing a red-collared Starfleet uniform with four pips decorating the collar of his shirt. But whereas his and Maya’s insignia identified them as captains, Jarik’s pips were arranged on top of a straight gold bar, denoting a senior administrative role.

The Vulcan took a step back and considered them both, his smile remaining on his face. “Feels a bit like an Academy reunion, doesn’t it?”

Michael had to admit that there was some truth to that. He and Jarik had been roommates when they had both been cadets in San Francisco while Amaya had been just down the hall. They had been close friends at the time even if Michael had always suspected that Jarik and Amaya would not have been close if it hadn’t been for him. Regardless of their shared relationship at the Academy, he couldn’t help but feel like the odd man out.

He nodded. “It does. But I suppose this isn’t exactly a happy reunion.”

Jarik shook his head. “The circumstances aren’t ideal, no. And I fully appreciate that this caught you by surprise and that you were all but ready to head off into the great unknown to make what I’m sure would have been great new discoveries. I can only imagine how much you must have looked forward to that and I’m truly sorry to have to pull you away from such a grand opportunity.”

“I’m sure there’ll be time for that later and once we’ve dealt with this latest crisis.”

“I hope so, Michael,” Jarik said and then seemed to hesitate for a moment. “I know you’ve heard this quite a bit lately, and I know I’ve already offered my condolences to you back on Earth. But I just wanted to say again how sorry I am for Jon.”

Michael nodded. “Thank you.”

There was a moment of awkward silence before Jarik continued. “And thank you for coming all the way out here so promptly,” he said and indicated towards one of the many empty chairs. Michael took the proffered seat while Jarik and Amaya took chairs opposite from him. “Looks like that new warp sled our friends at R&D have cooked up really came through, huh?”

“We had a few initial troubles with it but overall, yes, it really worked quite well,” he said and then decided to cut to the chase. “I understand that there is a medical crisis on a Krellonian colony that we might be able to help out with.”

He didn’t miss the brief glance exchanged by his two friends.

Jarik nodded. “That is correct.”

“And that Eagle was specifically requested for this mission.”

“Also true and I suppose you’re wondering why that is,” Jarik said.

“I have my suspicions. Not many Starfleet ships have a Krellonian crewmember onboard.”

Jarik nodded. “Mister Culsten seems to have some very important connections in his government from the little we could determine.”

"But there is more going on here than the Krellonians asking for help with a medical emergency, isn't there? Otherwise, I wouldn't be sitting here and I'd be on my way into Krellon space as we speak."

His two academy friends exchanged yet another look, giving him seemingly indisputable evidence that he was on the right track.

Jarik leaned forward slightly even if that did next to nothing about the physical distance between them considering that he had chosen to sit on the exact opposite side of the large round table. “Michael, I know of course how your father worked and the secrets he liked to keep but let me assure you, that is not how I wish to operate. Especially not with you. I believe in being upfront with people I work with, particularly when I am convinced that I can count on their discretion and integrity. But before I go into any details, would you mind telling me what it was Jon told you about the work we were doing when you came to see us on Earth?”

Michael considered them briefly from across the table and couldn’t entirely shake the feeling that he was being interviewed. He had, of course, worked with Amaya closely before and liked to think that he knew her well. And that was not counting his other, more personal feelings towards her. But Jarik was a different story. They had been close while they had attended the Academy together but that had been many years ago and they had lost touch shortly after graduating. He had not truly spoken to him again up until recently when he had been surprised to find that he had been working with his father. He ultimately decided that it was only fair to give Jarik the benefit of the doubt, after all it could not have been easy to step into his father’s shoes, a man who had headed the enigmatic Department of Special Affairs and Investigations for decades, and in doing so, Michael was convinced, shaping it into the organization it had become.

“Not much,” he said and shook his head. “You were there for most of it. He was insistent that I come to work for him and was incredibly reluctant to share anything about the work he was doing other than to stress how terribly important it was. All I was able to figure out was that it was related to something called Operation Myriad. From what I’ve been able to tell, there is no operation by that name anywhere in Starfleet records.”

“Not in official records, no,” said Jarik. “But it is what we are working on here and it is a serious threat to the Federation.”

“What kind of threat?”

“Before I go any further I just want to make it clear that what I’m about to tell you is highly classified. I am happy to read you into our work here because I think you will need to know, but I must ask you not to share this information with anyone else below your security clearance,” he added and glanced at the woman by his side. “Amaya agreed to that same stipulation when she first came onboard.”

Michel sighed. “I don’t like secrets. Certainly not those I have to keep from my crew. Having said that, I can appreciate how they might be necessary in our line of work.”

Jarik nodded. “Seven years ago, while surveying this area of space, the Enterprise made contact with a race of solanogen-based beings native to subspace carrying out a series of gruesome experiments on Enterprise crewmembers by abducting them and sending them back onto the ship with no knowledge of what had been done to them.”

“I think I remember a briefing on this,” he said. “You believe that this race is abducting people again?”

But the Vulcan shook his head. "No. We believe that they intend on carrying out a full-fledged invasion of our space."

He shot him an incredulous look. "How is that even possible? Solanogen cannot exist outside of subspace."

“True. However, we have compelling intelligence that these beings have been developing some sort of subspace portal which would allow them to transition into normal space. In fact, we believe that the experimentations they’ve carried out seven years ago were part of a larger plan to lay the ground works for this impending invasion. We have confirmed reports that what happened on the Enterprise was not an isolated incident and that people all over this sector have been abducted, studied and experimented on—“ Jarik stopped himself as he was gripped by a short coughing fit.

Maya turned to him, offering her support, but he quickly waved her off. “I’m alright,” he said and looked back towards Michael. “As I was saying, everything they have done is leading to what we believe to be an imminent attempt to gain a foothold in normal space and this sector. Everything we know about these beings has given us reason to believe that their intentions are hostile and a grave threat to the Federation.”

Michael needed a moment to digest this before he spoke again. “This is what had my father so worried? Why he insistent that I joined him?”

"Your father and I had been working on this for years and long before we realized the true scope of the threat we were facing. It has only been over the last few months that we started to understand the full extent of their designs. Michael, this is an enemy we still don't know how to fight. And I probably don't have to tell you that we cannot afford another war so soon after the last one."

He rubbed his temples as he continued to try and process this dire news. “What is Starfleet doing about this?” he said and made eye contact with Jarik again. “I understand that you and SAI have been working on this, but surely, if this such a significant threat, and if it is originating from this sector of space, why haven’t we amassed a defensive force yet?”

Jarik offered a heavy sigh. "Starfleet Command is not fully convinced of the nature of this threat even if the evidence keeps mounting. They have only recently given us the go-ahead to pursue this further and allocating resources such as Amaya and Agamemnon, but until we provide more concrete proof, Command will not divert any additional resources to Operation Myriad.”

“And I suppose you are about to tell me that this is where I come in?”

Jarik offered a little smile which people who were not aware of his mixed heritage may have found disturbing. “Precisely. Your father was convinced, and I tend to agree, that while these beings carried out their experiments, they were looking for and found a willing partner for their plans right here in this sector.”

Michael nodded, seeing now where this was going. “The Krellonians.”

"Yes. Regardless of what technology they may possess to allow them to enter normal space, it is unlikely that they would be able to accomplish this without any assistance from our side. The Krellonians are the perfect partners and since we are not exactly on the best of terms with them, we can't just show up on their doorstep and ask them if they are in league with an alien race living in subspace and attempting to invade us."

"So this is an intelligence operation under the guise of an aid mission," said Michael, not feeling particularly fond of the idea and unable to keep this out of the tone of his voice. "This medical emergency is taking us to one of the least significant colony worlds of a highly xenophobic people. The chance that we will be able to uncover much of anything seems doubtful."

Jarik nodded in agreement. "I am not saying that this is not a long shot. But this opportunity is just too good for us to pass up. We don't know how imminent this invasion is. This could be happening tomorrow, next week or next year. We simply need more information and if there is any chance that we can get a clearer picture courtesy of the influence your helmsman can provide than we cannot afford not taking the chance."

“What about the aid mission itself?” Michael asked.

"The Krellonians have not told us much," Amaya said. "But we do know it is serious and that people in their colony are dying."

Jarik took it from there. “Naturally, your mission is to do whatever you can to help the Krellonians fight this thing. The Diplomatic Corps believes this to be an important opportunity to improve our relationship with the Star Alliance and I don’t disagree. But I’d rather gain actionable intelligence on a pending invasion that could kill billions rather than try and save one Krellonian colony.”

Michael frowned at that. “I’m not going to weigh lives here.”

Jarik shook his head. “I’m not asking you to. Your mission is to do what you can on both fronts. Nothing more and nothing less.”

The room fell silent again save for the background noise of the personnel working in the adjacent section.

“We’ll approach this from two angles,” Jarik continued after a moment. “While you head to the Piqus system, Amaya will continue a search we already began before you arrived. It is not much better than trying to find that proverbial needle in a star cluster, but since we know what we are looking for thanks to information gathered by the Enterprise years ago, it is possible that we can find that subspace portal before it can be used against us.”

“Those sound like two equally desperate measures,” said Michael.

Jaris stood. “Unfortunately, at this point, we are desperate. And we are also on a tight schedule. The Krellonians are expecting you, Michael, and the longer we delay the less likely we might be able to learn anything from them. Agamemnon will accompany you into the Amargosa Diaspora until you’ll need to part ways. I’ll make sure you have a full briefing package sent to you. But I will have to ask you once more to keep what you’ve learned here confidential for the time being.”

Michael followed suit, leaving his chair and a moment later so did Amaya. “That won’t be easy. Not if I will have to rely on Lieutenant Culsten to establish some sort of contact with officials that might know about this alliance.”

“I trust you to make the right call Michael and find a way to share only what is absolutely necessary while maintaining operational confidentiality,” said Jarik and rounded the conference table to approach him again.

Michael nodded and then glanced towards her fellow captain. “Maya, do you mind giving us the room for a moment?”

She offered him a surprised look and then sought for agreement on Jarik’s face who quickly provided it. “I’ll return to Agamemnon and we’ll set out as soon as you’re back on Eagle,” she said and began heading out of the conference room.

“Maya,” Michael said to her back.

She stopped and turned around.

“Let’s catch up later.”

She offered a sharp nod but said nothing further before she left.

Michael turned his attention towards Jarik once more. “Is it just me or does she seem a little off?”

He shrugged. “She’s had a lot on her mind lately. Don’t blame her if she’s not the same person she was during the good old days.”

He nodded slightly, not entirely convinced.

“What is it you wanted to talk to me about? I already told you, I don’t want to work like Jon did. I don’t believe in keeping secrets unless absolutely necessary.”

“I just wanted to know how you’re feeling?”

His facial expression turned quizzical for a moment, clearly not having anticipated the question. “I’m fine, Michael.”

He nodded and then took a few steps away from his old friend, considering his next words carefully. “You asked me earlier what my father told me back on Earth.”

“Yes?”

He turned back to face him. “I didn’t want to say anything in front of Maya, but he did mention some concerns.”

“What kind of concerns?”

“About you. I think part of the reason he was so insistent that I joined him was because he felt that your condition might start affecting your work. He was worried about you, Jarik.”

The half-Vulcan looked dumbstruck. But only for a moment. His features quickly hardened. “What did he tell you about my condition?”

He shook his head. “Not much. Just that it was some sort of genetic disease. And that you have been starting to show symptoms.”

It wasn’t difficult to tell that he didn’t like hearing this. He turned away for a moment as if to hide the emotions this revelation had awoken within him, living up to his Vulcan side for just an instant or so. He uttered a short but humorless laugh, quickly dispelling once again any kind of doubt that he was much closer to his human heritage. “I guess it’s hard to keep a secret from a man who had made it his mission in life to collect them.”

“Is it true?”

He nodded without facing the other man. “A few years ago I was diagnosed with Darnay's disease.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that,” he said, fully aware that there was no cure for Darnay’s.

Jarik turned around. “I am not at the terminal stage yet. So let me be very clear, regardless what Jon may have told you, I am still fully able to perform whatever duties are required of me. I can manage the symptoms with regular injections and the doctors have assured me that I still have a couple of good years left. I will not let this disease beat me and I most definitely won’t let it affect our work here.”

He nodded slowly. “Does Maya know?”

He shook his head. "And I'd prefer if you didn't tell her this. I know I said that I don't like to keep secrets but in this instance, I think it would be better for everyone if we could keep this between us. I will tell her when the time is right. Hopefully, this crisis will be long behind us by the time my body and mind will start failing me."

“I can respect that. But you have to promise me that you will step away from this if you realize that you can no longer do what must be done. SAI has already lost one leader who refused to look after his own health, I don’t want this job to do to you what it did to my father.”

He held out his hand. “You have my word, Michael.”

They shook and soon after they parted ways again so that Michael could return to Eagle and begin the next and most crucial part of his new mission. Prevent an inter-dimensional invasion.

How exactly he was going to accomplish this, he had no idea.
Part One: Trust No One - 7 by CeJay
7



Even at warp, the Amargosa Diaspora was quite the sight to behold, a starscape of countless suns arranged in close proximity to each other, ranging from the ultra hot and bright dark-blue main sequence stars to white and orange giants all the way up to the dimmer and cooler M-types.

It was also quite a challenge to navigate, requiring ship pilots to make constant, minor course correction and limiting their cruising speed to warp seven.

And yet Michael Owens' focus remained not on the mesmerizing background vista or the hard work being carried out on the bridge by his helmsmen, but on that other starship, traveling in close formation just a few short kilometers to their starboard bow and readily discernible from the windows of his quarters.

It had been six hours since he had received his briefing on Arkania IX and both Eagle and Agamemnon had set out towards Krellonian space. He had tried to reach out to Amaya twice during that time with no success.

“Lieutenant Deen to Captain Owens.”

Her voice had not come over the comm system but from much closer. He diverted his eyes from the windows to the other side of the table he was sitting at to see DeMara returning his look expectantly.

“The bread.”

It took him a moment to realize that she was asking him to pass the tray filled with freshly replicated toast slices which sat on his side of the breakfast table and that she had likely asked for it at least once before while he had been distracted with his thoughts. "Of course, sorry," he said as he reached for the tray and passed it along.

“You still haven’t told me what this mission is all about,” she said as she took a couple of slices and began to butter them up. “You know the rumor mill is in full effect. Cleary more is happening here than just a relief mission.”

He frowned. He was still not comfortable that the crew, especially his senior officers, were left in the dark about their latest assignment and he knew he had to change this soon. Jarik's instructions had been clear regarding the confidentiality requirements of the mission, but he had to find ways to read in people he trusted and whose support he was going to depend on for next few days or otherwise this mission was doomed before it had even started. "I'll schedule a briefing soon."

“That’s not what has you so distracted this morning though, is it?”

Michael uttered a sigh, realizing that he wouldn’t be able to keep his true thoughts from the perceptive Tenarian. “It’s Amaya.”

“Right,” she said and quickly went back to finish preparing her toast with fruit-based preserves.

“She’s been very distant lately, ever since the funeral when I realized that we had both been on Earth at the same time. And then talking to her yesterday, it almost felt as if we were strangers.”

“I’m probably not the right person to offer relationship advice,” she said without making eye contact. “But sometimes people just drift apart.”

He nodded slowly even if he had a hard time understanding why this would have been the case with Amaya. She had given him no signs at all over the last year or so and after their relationship had become more than mere friendship that she had regretted the path they had embarked upon. "Maybe," he said, hoping that this was not the case but also not quite missing that his breakfast companion seemed somewhat disinterested in this topic of conversation. In fact, she had appeared rather dispassionate about a number of things lately, and he couldn't help wonder if perhaps her suspended performance was to blame. He knew that his critique certainly hadn't helped matters.

He felt that he needed to clear the air; it wouldn’t do having two important people in his life being annoyed with him at the same time.

But before he could broach the subject, the comm system piped through an actual message into his quarters. “Bridge to Captain.”

He recognized So’Dan Leva’s voice. “Owens here. Go ahead, Commander.”

“Sir, we’ve just received a message from the Agamemnon. Captain Donners is requesting permission to beam aboard.”

He exchanged a surprised glance with DeMara who merely shrugged “Very good. Permission granted. I’ll meet her in transporter room two.”

“I’ll relay the message.”

“Owens out.”

DeMara grabbed a half-eaten slice of toast from her plate and stood. “Well, sounds like your worries were unfounded.”

"Yeah," he said, halfheartedly. "But still, doesn't this all feel a little forced to you? Requesting formal permission, relaying messages via the bridge? That's not really her style."

“She’s following protocol, Michael, you can’t fault her for that,” she said and headed for the doors.

“You finished?”

She shook her head. “I just thought I’d give you two some privacy.”

He left his chair. “You don’t have to go,” he said but realized, even as he was saying the words, that in truth, he wanted her to.

And she could see it too. She was kind enough not to call him out on his bluff. "I should get back to the bridge anyway. There are a lot of stars out there; it helps to have a couple of extra eyeballs focused on sensors," she said and then left without waiting for his response.

He walked over to his washroom to quickly freshen up and brush his hair before he'd head out to greet her in the transporter room. On his way towards the doors, he stopped, thinking of something else. "Computer, play some ambient music. American Blues. Early to mid-Twentieth century," he said, knowing that Amaya was particularly partial to that genre of music.

The computer quickly trilled in acknowledgment and filled his quarters with the gentle but sorrowful tones of a singer of a long bygone age, strumming on his guitar.

Not a moment after, the annunciator to his quarters notified him of a visitor which to Michael felt like a rather inconvenient time. He quickly stepped up to the doors which opened to reveal Amaya Donners already standing there.

“Hey,” he said surprised. “I was just coming to get you.”

She stepped into his quarters after he had moved aside to give her room. “You know me, never the patient sort.”

He turned to face her and allowing the doors to close behind him. “Well, I’m glad you came over.”

She spotted the food on the table. “Did I interrupt breakfast?”

He shrugged it off. “Not really. Want to join me?”

She looked over the second table setting. “Dee?” she asked.

“Yes. She just left.”

She nodded but made no move to sit at the table.

“I can get you a plate,” he said and headed towards the replicator.

“No need,” she said. “I won’t be staying long.”

He stopped halfway to the replicator and turned back. “Oh?”

He guessed it wasn't difficult for her to spot the disappointment on his face and she uttered a little sigh. "Listen, Michael; I know things between us have cooled a little bit."

He offered a smile. “I guess. We’re both pretty busy people after all.”

She nodded but didn't reciprocate the smile. "That's right. I mean look at us. We're so busy that for the majority of the time we can't even see each other in person. Every time we try to arrange leave together something comes up either on my side or yours. And then, the one-time coincidence puts us in the same place at the same time, all I get to do is express my condolences to you, almost in passing, after your father died."

“I don’t blame you for that. And I appreciate you made the time for the funeral.”

She took a step towards the window as if to study her own ship in closer detail. "This isn't about blame. It's about the practicality of two starship captains being more to each other than just friends. We both have an enormous amount of responsibilities placed on us. Now with this latest crisis, perhaps more so than ever since the end of the war."

Michael was not willing to give in so quickly. He took a step towards her. "We made it work during the war, and it wasn't easy for either one of us then."

She finally turned to look him in the eye. She didn’t speak right away.

“What are you saying here? You want to break this off?”

“What is this anyway?” she said. “You and me? What would you call it? It’s not really a relationship in that sense of the word. Talking to each every other week or so, seeing each other maybe every other month and worrying for most of the rest of the time.”

“I will always worry about you.”

She scowled at him, and he realized that he had phrased that wrong. "What I mean is that we have been friends for a long time. And we'll always be friends. Worrying about each other is what friends tend to do. It shows that we care."

She nodded slightly, acceding to that point. “Yes, but it’s easier when there is less pressure.”

“Pressure?” he said, finding her word choice a little peculiar.

She seemed to sense it too and began to rub the bridge of her nose in apparent frustration. Whatever she had come here to say, it was apparently not going quite the way she had envisioned it. "Listen, I just think we need to slow things down a bit. At least until this crisis is over."

“There’ll always be some sort of crisis.”
She said nothing.

He nodded, the message was clear enough. “Very well. Let’s focus on this mission and saving the galaxy before we decide where this other thing between us is going.”

Her smile felt forced and never quite reached her eyes. “Thanks.”

She pointed towards the ceiling to indicate the music that was playing over the speakers. “I love Huddie Ledbetter.”

“Lead Belly. I know,” he said. “Ever since you’ve told me that you grew up in the same place he was born. Tiny town in the bayou.”

Her smile widened slightly. “Yeah, I guess I do like to tell that story.”

They remained in quiet reflection for a spell while the four-hundred-year-old singer lamented over where his girl had been and where she was going to go.

The song came to an end, and Amaya headed for the doors. Then she stopped, reached into her uniform jacket and dug out a thin isolinear chip from an inside pocket. She handed it over to him. "I almost forgot about this."

“What is it?” he asked as he took the plastic strip.

“It’s from your father. He asked me to give it to you before…”

She didn't have to finish the sentence, and the look in her pained eyes made it clear that she didn't want to talk about it further either. She left without saying another word.

His eyes lingered on those now closed doors for a moment, unable to stop wondering where he had gone wrong to allow it to get to this point and why he had not tried harder from letting her go.

Michael glanced down at the chip in his hand. If it had really come from his father as she had claimed, he had to wonder why he had given it to her instead of just passing this on to him directly. But then again trying to understand anything his father had done while he had still been alive had often seemed like a mostly futile gesture.

He walked over to his desk, sat down in front of his desktop monitor and slotted the chip into the interface.

The music immediately stopped playing and the image of his father, alive and well, appeared on the screen. Based on the background and the time index, the message had been recorded just a day before his death at his base in Far East Russia and after he had visited him there.

It was an odd feeling seeing him alive again, knowing that this was likely the last message he had ever recorded, at least to him.

“Son, I will have to keep this short. I know that you are not inclined to accept my offer to come and work for me. God knows you inherited that stubbornness from both your mother and me. To be honest, I didn't really expect you to. You are a starship captain, and I suppose at heart, that's what you'll always be. I've never truly had that same drive, but I recognize it in men and women who have made it their life's mission to sit in that chair and try to change the galaxy for the better.

I am trying to do the same thing but on a much larger scale and I will need your help doing it.”

He looked off-screen for a brief moment, reflecting on what he had said. Or perhaps on what he was about to say next.

"We've had our differences in the past; I understand this. And I also understand that some of it, maybe the majority of it, was because I involved myself far too much in your life and tried to do the same thing with your brother before he—left us. But you have to believe that I always had a good reason for doing so. That there was more at stake than the happiness of one family.”

He sighed, and it was clear he didn't exactly relish going down that particular road again and reopening old wounds.

"Michael, I said I would need your help, and I understand that you are not willing to do so based on the very little I've been able to share with you so far. But regardless if you end up deciding to join me here or not, I truly hope that I will be able to rely on you with whatever may happen going forward."

Jonathan Owens uttered a little laugh, amused by his own words.

“I’ve gotten a little bit too comfortable with my own secrets. Forgive an old man for being overly cautious with information which could be fatally dangerous in the wrong hands. I promise I will be able to tell you more soon,” he said before his face became much more serious once again. “In the meantime, and no matter what will happen in the days and weeks, maybe months, down the road, there is just one thing that I need you to promise me.

Don’t trust anyone.”

And then the message stopped, and his father's face disappeared.

Michael was flabbergasted.

And he was angry. Angry with a man he had spent most of his life being irked with and only just realizing that even after his death, this would not soon change.

“Goddammit, dad, what have you gotten me into?”
Part One: Trust No One - 8 by CeJay
8



He studied the expressions on her face carefully while she watched the same message he had played just a few hours earlier but he once again found that Tazla Star had seemingly perfected the art of disguising her true feelings underneath a practically unreadable mask of inscrutability which would have made a Vulcan proud.

Michael Owens had wrestled with the idea of showing his father’s recording to his first officer, a notion which would have been unthinkable just a year earlier and after she had joined the crew as a very much unwelcomed and distrusted addition to what he had always considered the tight-knit circle which made up the senior staff of Eagle. It had taken some time until he had been comfortable with having a woman who had briefly been a captain before being court-martialed and imprisoned for disregarding orders at his side. The fact that she had been found out to have been working for a shady group within Starfleet Intelligence which may not have always had the Federation's best interest at heart, hadn't helped much either.

Things had evolved quite a bit since those early days.

After first reviewing his father’s message, and then replaying it a number of times afterwards to ensure he had not missed any subtle nuances possibly hidden within the message, he had found himself with the dilemma that apparently the people he needed to rely on for this mission, were the exact same people his father had explicitly warned him against.

Regardless of what he had been told since the very auspicious beginning of this assignment which had started with Admiral Throl’s unexpected visit, he knew that he needed a second opinion on everything he had learned so far.

Normally that person would have been DeMara Deen who had functioned as one of his most trusted advisors and a reliable sounding board pretty much ever since he had watched her grow from a child into a young woman as well and an extraordinarily capable officer.

But since DeMara had been acting increasingly detached over the last few weeks, he had decided to bring Tazla Star into his confidence instead, and disregarding both the instructions he had been given by Jarik and his father’s warning, he had not only presented her with the recording but also brought her fully up to speed on what he had learned about the mission to prevent an inter-dimensional invasion by a subspace dwelling species.

“In the meantime, and no matter what will happen in the days and weeks, maybe months, down the road, there is just one thing that I need you to promise me. Don’t trust anyone.

The recording came to an end and Tazla Star leaned back in the chair she had been occupying, sitting opposite Michael, at his desk. She uttered a particularly colorful Trill curse under her breath.

He nodded as he turned the monitor back around so that it faced him once more even if his father’s face was now no longer displayed. “That’s precisely how I felt after seeing this.”

“Who do you think he’s referring to?” she asked.

He shrugged. “That’s the problem. I don’t know. And I don’t know how to find out either. It could be Throl. It could be Jarik or Maya. It could be all three of them and others. It could be nothing more than the paranoid delusions of a dying man.” He knew he didn’t do a good job of hiding his frustration. This message had thrown pretty much everything in doubt. Not just his mission, he could also not help himself but wonder if perhaps Amaya had been given a similar message, perhaps she had been told not to trust him, which certainly could explain her sudden change in attitude towards him. Or perhaps his father had been right in saying that she could not be trusted, perhaps something was wrong with her. The thought of all the questions this vague message raised, all the possibilities they suddenly evoked were driving him crazy and making him so much angrier with his father for having put him in this position. And then, of course, he had the audacity of dying suddenly, robbing him of any chance to be able to confront him about these suspicions and demanding answers for once and for all.

In short, Jonathan Owens had shaken to his core, his confidence in the people he needed to believe in.

“I don’t think it would be wise to dismiss it entirely.”

Michael uttered a heavy sigh and stood from his chair to walk over to the man-high window in his ready room which currently gave him, not only a great view of the Amargosa stellar nursery they were traversing but also of the starship Agamemnon which continued to travel with them at warp in close formation. “And therein lies the problem. I can’t afford to do anything less but heed the warning, even if there is a chance that it is nothing more than baseless paranoia. Not while we might be facing an imminent invasion by a technologically advanced and hostile force we seem to know next to nothing about,” he said and turned around. “But what if he’s wrong and this mistrust he has spread is only complicating an already difficult situation? What is the right move here? Can there even be one?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “ And it places us in the unenviable position in which the only people who do know what is going on are possibly the very same people we cannot trust with anything.”

Feeling a headache coming on, he began to massage his forehead. “You can see why I didn’t get much sleep last night,” he said and looked right at her. “What are your thoughts?”

If Star was surprised by her captain's show of faith and trust in her she did well to hide this. She glanced back towards the computer screen which was now blank again as if to recall every last word she had heard his late father speak in his enigmatic message. "I have some familiarity with the Department of Special Affairs and Investigations from my work in the intelligence community. I never met your father but I've worked alongside with, and on occasions perhaps even against, members of his agency. They don't exactly work like more traditional intelligence networks, they have no spies or run clandestine missions, as far as I'm aware, but they do keep things very much need-to-know. And in my experience, if SAI is involved in something, there is a side they want you to see and then there is the truth."

“I was afraid you’d say something like that,” he said and considered her words a bit further. “You said you’ve never met my father. How about Jarik?”

She shook her head. “To be honest, I know next to nothing about him. Which in itself is unusual. In my experience, people like that don’t usually come out of nowhere. You said you were Academy roommates?”

He nodded and took his seat again. "Yes. Good friends once upon a time before we drifted apart after we graduated. I did some digging. According to his file, he did some unremarkable work within Starfleet's administrative circles before joining my father about ten years ago. Nothing else stands out."

“If you were to look at my file,” said Star, “you would find much the same thing about my career up until Sacajawea. And it would mostly be a complete fabrication.”

"I considered that. The thing is I actually got a very good feeling about Jarik ever since I met him again on Earth a few weeks ago. Instead of keeping secrets like my father did, he seemed very open with me. I appreciate that it could all be a smokescreen but in the time I knew him at the Academy, Jarik has always been a straight shooter. In that regard, he took after his Vulcan mother. There wasn't a deceitful or malicious bone in his body."

Star seemed to contemplate her next words carefully. “I hate to bring it up, but what about Captain Donners? How much do you think you can trust her?”

“It’s a legitimate question,” he quickly admitted. “Three weeks ago I would have said that I’d trust her unconditionally.”

“And now?”

He shook his head slightly. “Now I’m not so sure. And I truly hate feeling that way about her.”

“I understand. But I would suggest, for the time being, that you remain careful around her. It might be a good idea not to share any of this with either Donners or Jarik,” she said, indicating towards the blank screen.

“I don’t think I have a choice. We’ll keep everything we know between the two of us until further notice and until we have a clearer idea who we can trust.”

“Agreed,” she said. “What about the crew? What do you want to tell them?”

Michael thought about this for a moment. It still irked him that he was keeping the people under his command, the people who needed to trust him, in the dark. It was a page straight out of his father's playbook and it didn't sit right with him at all. But trust, he had painfully come to realize, had become a very dangerous commodity. "Call a briefing for oh-nine-hundred tomorrow morning with the senior staff. As much as I hate it, we won't be able to disclose everything we've learned so far, as little as that might be. But we still have a relief mission to carry out, as well as attempt to gather more intelligence on this invasion and how the Krellonians might fit into all this. We are going to have to rely on one of our own if we want any hope of trying to uncover any possible connections."

Tazla Star offered a sharp nod but even she couldn’t entirely hide the glint of doubt in her emerald colored eyes. There was no point begrudging her over it. Michael felt exactly the same way. And he feared that this doubt wasn’t going to go anywhere anytime soon, sticking around like an uninvited guest, lingering somewhere in the background and just out of reach, until that moment it all came crashing down on them with a punishing vengeance.
Part Two: Do No Harm - 1 by CeJay
Part Two: Do No Harm



1


The tension in Eagle’s observation lounge felt surprisingly high even before the meeting had commenced. Michael thought he had felt it the moment he had stepped into the conference room and the voices of his senior officers had quieted down quickly.

DeMara Deen had hardly made eye contact with him as he stepped up to his seat at the head of the table and So’Dan Leva seemed to be staring off into empty space. Doctor Katanga was clearly in a fouler mood than usual and was taking pains to avoid looking at Tazla Star which in itself was odd since he knew that the two most recent additions to his crew had been close friends for a long time and had rekindled that friendship since they had reunited on Eagle.

Commander Xylion also appeared more preoccupied with his own thoughts than he had come to expect from the usually most steadfast member of his crew.

But perhaps most concerning considering the nature of their upcoming mission was the fact that Lif Culsten appeared oddly quiet and uninterested in the ongoing proceedings, having chosen a seat at the far end of the table and not next to Louise Hopkins where he would have normally expected him, usually at the center of any ongoing conversations while liberally cracking jokes. The young chief engineer didn’t appear greatly concerned that the Krellonian had chosen not to sit next to her.

The only person who made a rather relaxed impression on him was his Bajoran security chief, the very same person who more often than not was predominately concerned with potential risks to the ship and her crew.

He haphazardly pondered for just a brief moment if he should have asked the ship’s counselor to attend today’s briefing session as he took his chair. He couldn’t help but feel that she would have given him a rather worrisome report about the current mental state of his senior officers.

"Thank you all for coming," he said. "I appreciate that the crew might be somewhat puzzled by our unexpected and sudden change of mission and the lack of further details, especially considering all the work and preparation we have put into our mission to the Pleiades. Not to mention the excitement of the prospect of engaging in a long-term exploratory mission of this nature. First of all, let me assure you all that the Pleiades is not going anywhere and that we are still scheduled to be the first Starfleet vessel to venture deep into that corner of space. It's just that something else has come up which we will need to deal with first as a matter of urgency."

Katanga nodded impatiently. "A medical emergency. Naturally, that must take priority. But I have to seriously question the sanity of whoever made the decision to keep the details of such a crucial assignment under wraps. The sooner I get the full scope of the situation on the ground, the quicker I can prepare for whatever we are dealing with."

Star shot the African doctor a sharp look to communicate her annoyance with his choice of words which Katanga chose to ignore entirely. And while Michael was not always pleased with his chief medical officer’s bluntness, he could certainly sympathize with his point. Because of the complexities of the situation they had been thrust into he had not been able to give Katanga more than a very basic heads-up on what their upcoming mission entailed, clearly much to the physician’s chagrin.

He acknowledged his outburst with a tilt of his head before addressing the entire group. “I understand your frustration, Doctor, and I appreciate all your patience in this matter over the last few days.”

But Star was not satisfied with glossing over Katanga's inappropriate behavior. "But at the end of the day, we are Starfleet officers expected to follow orders. We may not always get explanations, and we may not always like the ones we do get, but that doesn't change the fact that we will follow those orders to the best of our abilities regardless. I want you all to keep this in mind over the next few days."

Of course, he didn't disagree with anything his first officer had said, but considering the awkward position he now found himself in—he and Star both, really—perhaps he may not have chosen such strong language with the rest of the crew.

And Katanga, predictably, didn’t respond well to it. “Orders are all well and good,” he said, gracing Star with only a very brief glance before focusing back on the captain. “But if lives hang in the balance, my priorities are clear. And always will be.”

Michael picked up before Star could respond. Usually, he depended on the Trill to be the buffer between Katanga's brusque and sometimes downright cantankerous ways and his own more diplomatic and subtle command style. Today he felt that if he let Star continue to run interference, she would actually make matters worse. "Nobody is suggesting that we prioritize one over the other, Doctor," he said and saw that it helped calm him down somewhat, even if he continued to disregard Star's poisonous glare directed his way.

“What’s the mission, sir? Can you share any more details?”

He nodded at Nora, hiding his surprise that it was his fiery security chief who was attempting to cool down the meeting and bring it back on track. “Yes. The Federation has been approached by the Krellonian government and has formally requested medical assistance following the outbreak of what appears to be an unidentified viral disease on their colony world of Piqus VII.”

“What do we know about this disease?” Katanga asked immediately.

“Next to nothing, so far. The Krellonians have not shared any details about the nature of this epidemic. All we know is that their own medical community is puzzled by the situation and currently has no answers to combat whatever this is.”

“It must be pretty serious if they have come to us,” said Leva. “I don’t believe the Krellonians have ever asked the Federation for assistance with anything.”

“Certainly not within recent memory, no,” said Star.

“Have we tried to reach out to their leaders or their medical community?” said Katanga who was clearly already thinking about the best ways to handle the relief efforts. Hardly a surprise considering that he had co-founded Starfleet Medical’s interstellar relief agency a few decades earlier and had led that program for years before joining Eagle. The other co-founder had been Tazla Star’s former host.

Michael shook his head. “We haven’t even been given a point of contact as of yet. We are hoping to receive a full situation brief once we arrive at Piqus.”

Katanga nodded slowly. “That’s far from ideal but not at all unusual. Especially for a xenophobic government which is not used to working with other members of the interstellar community. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see quite a bit of resistance to our presence once we get there. I’ve seen that kind of thing before. Even if the central government may have agreed to seek outside assistance, it is more than likely that the local population and maybe even local leaders will object to our presence. Sometimes fiercely so.”

"Your expertise in these matters will no doubt be invaluable, Doctor," Michael said with a little smile.

“The key will be to insist as much as possible to be allowed to help and to frame every argument with an emphasis on the wellbeing of their own populace,” he said.

Michael wasn't quite sure if he liked all of that but for now decided to bow to Katanga's admittedly vast experience in that field. "The situation will also offer us an opportunity to attempt improving our relations with the Krellonian people and officials," he said and then quickly raised a hand to try and cut off Katanga before he could protests. "Not, of course, at the cost of trying to provide whatever help they require," he said quickly. "But as I probably won't have to remind anyone in the room, the Dominion War has left us in a severely weakened state that will take years, if not decades to fully recover from. Since the Krellonian Star Alliance remained entirely neutral in that conflict, it would certainly not hurt if this mission could lead to the first step of an eventual alliance." He considered Lif Culsten closely while speaking, having taken painful note that he had yet to speak at all on the subject, and still remained entirely disengaged, avoiding eye contact with anyone else in the room. "Lif, since we are talking about your people, perhaps you could share some insights into the matter."

The young helmsman turned to look at the captain but didn’t speak right away. “I wish I could, sir. To be honest, I haven’t been in touch with my people much ever since I left for the Academy. I’m probably not the best source of information on what is happening within the Star Alliance.”

“And yet you probably know much more than anyone else here. Even Starfleet Intelligence has only very scant details about the Krelloninan people,” said Star.

The silver-haired, earless lieutenant glanced towards Katanga briefly. “The Doctor is right, my people tend to be xenophobic. I’m very surprised that they’ve even reached out to Federation at all. I would not expect any kind of appetite from leaders for anything more than very specific and targeted assistance. It might even be nothing more than sharing of information.”

Michael and Star exchanged a concerned look, both, of course, thinking about the wider implications of what Culsten's theory would mean.

“Lou, didn’t you and Lif only just go visit Krellon a few weeks ago?” said Nora Laas. “What was your impression?”

The chief engineer seemed noticeably uncomfortable answering that question and looked towards Culsten for support. When he didn’t offer any, she spoke up. “It was quite an experience. Overall, I thought they are a very friendly people. There were some exceptions, of course, but that’s always the case. We did have a few—well, troubles, while we were there.”

"What kind of troubles?" Star asked, beating Michael to asking the same questions by just a heartbeat.

Hopkins sought out Culsten once more and this time he did pick up the ball. “This is a turbulent time for my people. There has been a growing dissatisfaction among the populace with how the government conducts certain internal affairs.”

“How is this dissatisfaction manifesting itself?” asked Nora Laas, now fully in security officer mode again.

Culsten took a moment to answer the question. "When we were on the homeworld there were growing signs of civil unrest."

“We got caught up in a rather violent riot just as we were about to leave,” said Hopkins when Culsten didn’t elaborate further. “For a short while there, I wasn’t sure if we were even going to get out of there in one piece.”

Star looked at both his officers with concern since this was clearly the first time she had heard about any of this. It wasn't, of course, regulation for Starfleet officers to share what happened to them while they were on shore leave, but as a former intelligence operative, Michael could see how she would have liked to have been briefed about these kinds of developments. As, no doubt, would have Starfleet. Michael had a suspicion that there was more to the story his two young officers had shared, especially considering Culsten's obvious reluctance to speak on the subject.

“Why us?”

Michael looked over at Deen who had been uncharacteristically quiet so far.

“We were practically at the other end of the galaxy when this request must have come in,” she continued. “We were just days from a mission to take us even further away from Krellon space and we had to make use of the warp sled just to get us all the way out here in the first place. I can’t help but wonder if all of this is because of Lif.”

Culsten looked up and Michael could tell that he had been asking himself that very same question. "That's our best guess," Michael said and turned his eyes on the helmsman who now found himself at the center of attention.

Star prompted him when nobody else would. “Lieutenant. Do you know somebody within the Krellonian government who may have been responsible for requesting us specifically?”

“I am not sure.”

Hopkins clearly had an opinion and almost sounded somewhat exasperated when Culsten refused to speak further on this point. “Lif, half your family works for the government. It could be your grandparents or that aunt of yours we met.”

“I suppose that is possible.”

An awkward silence fell over the room.

Michael tugged on his uniform jacket, trying to hide his frustration over his officer’s lack of cooperation. “We’ll be reaching Krellon space within five hours and Piqus shortly after that,” he said and glanced at Katanga. “Doctor, I expect you will make whatever preparations you can given the lack of details we have at hand. I suggest you brush up on your Krellonian physiology.”

He nodded sharply “Of course,” he said and then to Culsten. “Lieutenant, I will need you to report to sickbay as soon as possible. As unappealing as it may sound to you, I will require your assistance as a living specimen.”

It wasn’t hard to tell from his facial expression that it sounded extremely unappealing to him indeed. But he nodded nevertheless. “Of course, Doctor.”

“Very well,” Michael said. “That’s all for now. Dismissed.”

Everyone in the room save for him and Star left their chairs and streamed towards the two exits until the captain and the first officer were left alone in the observation lounge.

He looked towards the Trill. “This won’t be easy, will it?”

Her scowling facial expression was answer enough.
Part Two: Do No Harm - 2 by CeJay
2

“We’re now approaching the outer border of Krellon space,” said DeMara Deen from her station at operations before turning around and glancing at Michael in the captain’s chair as well as Tazla Star by his side.

“Alright, we better do this by the book,” he said and considered his first officer. “Remind us again of the protocol for crossing the border.”

She brought up the requested details on her computer console. “According to what we’ve been told by Starfleet Command, we are required to drop out of warp immediately before reaching the outer boundary and continue to proceed at impulse while sending a general hail requesting permission to enter Krellonian space. We should then be intercepted by a border patrol vessel which may decide to board and inspect us before allowing us to proceed further. Under no circumstance are we to proceed into the inner boundary until we have been given permission by a designated border patrol agent.”

“And that’s after we’ve been formally invited,” said Leva from the tactical station behind the two command officers. “They make it easier to enter Romulan territory.”

Michael was fully aware that Leva spoke from experience since the half-Romulan had in fact been invited to visit the Romulan homeworld during the Dominion War.

“That tells us how much Krellonians like visitors,” said Deen and then quickly shot a contrite look to her right and towards the helmsman. “No offense, Lif.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “None taken. And you’re right, they don’t. One of the countless reasons I don’t live there anymore.”

“Let’s not give them any reason to keep us out,” said Michael. “Drop us out of warp and continue on impulse for the time being. Also, keep an eye on that inner boundary and make sure we keep well clear of it for now.”

“Dropping out of warp,” said Culsten and not a moment later the viewscreen provided ample evidence that they were no longer traveling at faster than light speeds.

“Mister Leva,” said Michael, turning to his tactical officer next. “Send a general greeting and request for permission to proceed into Krellon space on a wide-beam subspace channel.”

“Broadcasting now.”

“We are crossing the outer boundary to Krellon space,” said Deen.

For a moment nobody on the bridge spoke almost as if everyone was holding their collective breaths, waiting for something to happen that would make it inevitably clear that they had now passed into another sovereign territory. It wasn't all that surprising, however, when that signal never came, after all, in outer space, territorial boundaries could not be enforced in the same manner as physical borders on a planet, the ever-shifting nature of space-time itself making it a near impossible prospect.

“So far, so good,” said Star. “Lif, what can we expect from the border patrol?”

“ConsideringEagle’ssize we’ve probably been on their long-range sensors for a while now. I would expect to see one or two ships on an intercept course long before we reach the inner boundary. If they follow standard procedure, they’ll want to board us and ask a few questions. The whole thing shouldn’t last more than ten minutes but it does tend to be a rather tense affair.”

“Let’s receive any guests in the observation room and I suggest we serve some food and drinks as well. Let’s try to make this as comfortable for them as we can,” said Michael, looking at Star.

She nodded quickly and stood. “I’ll arrange it now.”

“Sir, I have one ship on long-range sensors approaching us at high warp,” said Leva. “Belay that, it’s two ships … no,” he stopped himself and looked up at the captain who regarded him with a curious look. “Make that eight frigates. They’ll be intercepting us in about twenty minutes. And we are being advised to hold our present position.”

Michael didn’t manage to hide his surprise. “Looks like they’re really rolling out the welcome committee for us.”

Star smirked. “I better make sure there are enough refreshments set up,” she said and headed out to make the arrangements.

“Lif,” said Michael. “Bring us to a full stop.”

“Full stop, aye, sir.”

“And would you mind joining us in the observation lounge?”

“Yes, sir,” he said after a brief delay. Michael hardly missed the little sigh he had tried to suppress unsuccessfully.


* * *




It didn’t take long for Eagleto be entirely surrounded by the eight, much smaller border patrol vessels and Michael carefully studied the ships he could make out through the large windows of the observation lounge, holding position just a few hundred meters astern.

He was once again reminded how rarely Krellonians traveled outside their territory by the almost entirely alien design of the ships, one he had never come across before. He also couldn't deny that they possessed a somewhat interesting aesthetic appearance thanks to their gleaming, chrome-like hulls, their pronounced v-shape, and their wing-like nacelles, making them appear, at least to him, more like pieces of moving art, rather than a militaristic starship design.

He glanced over to Lif Culsten who stood nearby but the younger man was avoiding making direct eye contact or showing any interest in the ships outside for that matter. In fact, he seemed entirely lost in his own thoughts.

The doors to the room opened before Michael could address his helmsman’s lack of focus.

Tazla Star stepped in first, quickly followed by six tall Krellonians. Like with Culsten, their most distinctive physical feature which distinguished them from most other humanoids Michael had come across was the fact that they lacked any kind of auricles attached to their skulls and instead, where most other races had their primary auditory organs, there was nothing more than perfectly smooth skin. All six had uniformly narrow strips of silver hair running from their foreheads, all the way to the base of their necks. He guessed that the dark markings, possibly tattoos, on the side of their otherwise bald heads indicated some sort of rank. They wore heavy chrome-like combat armor and all six of them carried assault rifles. There were three men and two women on their team, even though Michael had to admit it wasn't easy to guess their genders due to their bulky uniforms, similar builds, and identical hairstyles.

A quick glance towards Star and her slightly exasperated expression let him know that she had unsuccessfully attempted to get them to leave their weapons behind.

Nora Laas and two armed security officers had followed the Krellonian delegation into the room.

From a diplomatic standpoint, Michael would have preferred to do this without an armed escort but considering that they had clearly insisted on bringing their own guns, he appreciated Star’s decision to include Nora and the security team.

He offered a traditional Krellonian greeting gesture he had been shown by Culsten, palms pressed together, thumbs crossed and clenched fingers pointing at their guests, and took a step forward. “Welcome aboard Eagle. I am Captain Michael Owens and on behalf of the United Federation of Planets, we are honored to be allowed to enter Krellonian space,” he said with his best and most disarming smile before pointing at the table where a selection of refreshments and finger foods which were common within the Federation had been set up. “Perhaps you would like to sit down and sample some of what the Federation has to offer.”

The officer standing at the front of the group, Michael guessed he was the leader since his skull marking were more intricate than those of the others, looked over the table very briefly and then, entirely disinterested with what he had seen, glanced back towards him. “You are the commanding officer of this vessel?”

He nodded. “That is correct. Captain Michael Owens. I don’t believe I got your name?”

The man reached for a padd he had strapped to his belt and began to enter commands. "State your full name, race, and rank?"

Michael shot Star a quick look but she just shrugged, not entirely sure what the purpose of the question was either. “Michael Timothy Owens. Human. Captain with Starfleet.”

He continued to make notes without looking up. “State your place of birth?”

“The planet Earth in the Sol System.”

“I need you to be more specific.”

“A place called Waukesha on the North American continent,” he said, beginning to feel slightly exasperated. “Perhaps we could discuss arrangements for traveling to the Piqus system. I understand we have been urgently requested by your government to render aid to its population.”

“This vessel, Eagle, you called it?”

He nodded. “That is correct.”

“What is the exact number of its crew and passengers?”

He had to think about that for a brief moment. Eagle’sordinary complement was seven hundred and eighty, made up of officers, enlisted crewmen, and civilians. But it had been a long time since his ship had been home to that many people. The figure had changed most drastically during the war when all the civilians had disembarked and they had been replaced with a military contingent made out of combat-trained Marines. The crew had been decimated over the war years due to casualties and reassignments alike to such a degree that the total complement had often varied from one week to the next. Following the war, reassignments had continued in order to replenish other ships and bases which had been harder hit by the war than Eagle. Then, just a few weeks ago, following a little bit of soul-searching, Michael had decided to allow civilians to once again return to the ship by parting ways with Marines who had been onboard for nearly two years.

"Currently, I believe its six hundred forty-nine souls," he said after a moment and sought confirmation from his first officer who quickly nodded in the affirmative. "I hope you don't need me to go through all their names. Otherwise, we'll be here a while," he added with a smile.

The border security officer clearly had no sense of humor about this at all, nor did his colleagues, who all remained entirely stone-faced.

Star’s look seemed to say it all: Tough crowd.

“We will require a breakdown of your crew by race and rank and place of origin. You will also provide a full manifest of all and any cargo your vessel is currently transporting.”

“I believe that can be arranged,” said Star.

Michael nodded. “We’re more than happy to fully cooperate with all your requirements,” he said. “However, we would appreciate if we could expedite this process slightly in order to address the medical emergency on Piqus VII as soon as possible.”

But once again the officer seemed entirely apathetic to the reason Eaglehad come into Krellonian space. “How many habitable decks does this vessel comprise of?”

Eaglehas thirty decks within the saucer and engineering hulls and another six in the pod,” he said.

“We will commence a deck to deck inspection of your vessel. Your crew is instructed to cease all activity during the search, disarm themselves were necessary and submit themselves to a security scan. Any interference with the inspection will not be tolerated.”

Michael frowned, not liking the sound of this at all. Putting aside that he had not been advised to expect such a thorough inspection of his ship and crew, the intrusiveness of what the officer had suggested went far beyond what he would have allowed from an ally, not to mention a people he knew basically nothing about. “How long do you expect this to take?”

The irritation in the officer’s face was palpable. This was not a man accustomed to being questioned. “Considering the size of your vessel and crew, we will have to prepare six additional inspection team. If your crew cooperates fully, I expect to complete the inspection within eight standard hours.”

“I appreciate that you have your regulations,” Michael said, trying to sound as diplomatic as he knew how. “But surely we can make some sort of exception in this case. After all your own government has invited us here to address an urgent medical situation. Any delays in getting to Piqus VII will likely also put more Krellonian lives at risk. Besides, I have regulations of my own, I cannot allow your teams to inspect sensitive areas of this vessel.”

The annoyed expression on the other man’s face made it clear that this was not something he was accustomed to hearing.

Star took a small step forward. “Perhaps we could reach a compromise. We are still a few hours out from the Piqus system. How about we continue to our destination, with you escorting us of course, and we will let you carry out a joint inspection of Eaglewhile we are en-route?”

Michael thought that to be sensible compromise and gave the Trill a quick nod to let her know that he fully supported this alternative and appreciated her attempt to try and move this along.

The border officer, however, was clearly not interested in finding middle ground on anything and quickly shook his head. "Not acceptable. You will follow our instructions," he said, his tone becoming a lot more agitated all of a sudden, and Michael could tell that the rest of his team was beginning to tense-up as well. It was clear that Krellonina border patrol agents were not at all used to discussing their procedures or being questioned on them. As far as they were concerned, there was only one way of doing things.

Michael turned to Culsten who had been suspiciously quiet once again, not really offering any assistance in dealing with this situation.

“Justicar,” Culsten said, apparently recognizing the man’s rank insignia. “As you can tell, I am a Krellonian. The name is Liftu-Tensu-Leetu. I can vouch for these people and the urgency of our request to be allowed swift passage to the Piqus system.”

The justicar considered his fellow Krellonian almost contemptuously. “It does not matter who or what you are,” he said. “You, your commanding officer and the rest of this crew will comply with our instructions.”

“Or what?” Star said, clearly having lost her patience with this entire affair. She continued before Michel could stop her. “We are trying to be reasonable and cooperate with your directives but may I remind you that we are here at your people’s request? Are you implying that if we don’t comply, you will not let us enter your space to help your own people?”

"I am implying nothing," the justicar growled, his irritation now having reached blatant anger. "You are already within Krellonian Star Alliance territory. By law, you are obligated to follow any instructions given to you by an official agent of the Star Alliance. You must comply or you and your vessel will be seized," he said and raised his heavy rifle, trying to point it at Star.

But Star’s reflexes were slightly faster and she grabbed the rifle by its extended barrel and before he could bring it up far enough to line up a shot. Michael could see them both exerting great effort, the justicar trying to raise his weapon while Star tried to keep him from doing it.

“Remove your hand at once. You are interfering with Star Alliance operations.”

“You’re trying to point a weapon at me.”

Things were beginning to spiral out of control. Michael realized he had to act quickly to avoid a potential shootout in the packed observation lounge. “Let’s all calm down and—“

Star countered his increased effort to raise his rifle by grabbing hold of it with her another hand.

The weapon erupted loudly with a bright flash and a bolt of crimson energy which burned a large hole into the carpeted floor.

The other five officers quickly raised their own weapons, for all appearances ready to fire.

Nora sprang to action and ripped a rifle out of one Krellonian's hand before he could point it at anybody and used the butt of the same weapon to strike him hard enough against the side of his head that he lost his balance and dropped to the floor.

Michael took a quick step towards the third man trying to get a beat on him and drove his own rifle into his midsection which caused the agent to double over in pain before he lost his grip on his weapon.

Star had let go of the rifle she had tried to keep out of her face when it had fired suddenly, most likely because of the heat generated through the barrel and now found herself at the wrong end of that exchange with the muzzle pointed right at her neck

Nora’s security guards had followed their leader’s example and the petite human Skylar McIntyre had shoved her phaser emitter right into the face of a female officer who was now pointing her rifle at the captain. T’Nerr, the orange-furred Caitian had his weapon trained on another border officer who was threatening Nora with her rifle.

Michael raised the weapon he had commandeered and pointed it at the justicar who seemed moments away from blowing off Star's head. In truth, he had no idea if he would be able to figure out how to operate the rifle, or if it had stun setting for that matter, before the justicar could pull the trigger.

“Lower your weapons,” said Michael forcefully. “It doesn’t have to end like this.”

“You provoked this confrontation,” the justicar hissed, holding firm to his weapon, the muzzle of which nearly brushing against Star’s vulnerable throat. “You will lower your weapons and surrender to our authority.”

“Look around, I don’t think you are in much of a position of authority at present,” said Nora who kept her own liberated, alien rifle as steady as a rock, inches away from one of the agent’s heads.

Michael shot her a sharp look, making it clear that she wasn’t helping.

“The way I see things, this can all end peacefully if we just agree to lower our weapons and write this whole unfortunate affair off as nothing more than a cultural misunderstanding. The alternative is that whoever is left standing after we start shooting will have to start picking up body pieces off the floor and explain to our respective governments how a humanitarian mission turned into a bloodbath,” said Michael, trying to keep his eyes on everyone in the room, most of whom had either weapons pointed at them or were pointing them at somebody else. Or both.

Nobody spoke for a moment as an unsettling silence fell over the room during which Michael was sure he could hear not just his but a number of heartbeats, most of which were racing far faster than should have been normal. He was also fully cognizant that just one slipped finger could lead to a bloody massacre right here onboard his own ship.

“This isn’t over,” said the justicar. But instead of lowering his weapon, he used one of his hands to tap the back of his gun-wielding hand twice.

Michael braced himself for what that might mean.

It turned out to be some sort of retrieval signal as not a moment later the justicar and all of his people were engulfed in a bright yellowish energy beam, before they disappeared entirely.

Michael uttered a heavy breath as he lowered his weapon.

“Well, that escalated quickly,” said Star.

Nora looked more contrite as she handed the alien rifle to T’Nerr. “Sorry sir, I think I may have made matters worse but it looked like people were going to start shooting.”

“You did what you had to, Laas,” he said and looked towards the ceiling. “Owens to bridge. What is the status of the Krellonian ships?”

Xylion responded promptly. “We have detected transporter activity and all vessels have powered their engines and are altering their formation as we speak.”

“Red alert, shields up,” said Michael and then swiftly turned towards the doors, Star, Culsten and Nora close behind him. It took them just a few moments to get back to the bridge one deck above.

Xylion was already freeing up the command chair as Michael and the rest emerged from the turbolift. “The Krellonian vessels have raised shields and activated their weapons.”

“Hail them,” said Michael as he headed straight for his chair.

Leva shook his head. “They are ignoring us,” he said and then looked at Nora, clearly not having missed the concerned expression on all their faces. “What happened?”

“Things didn’t go well,” she said.

“To say the least,” added Michael. “What are they doing?”

Deen took that one. “Nothing for now. They have moved to what looks like an aggressive formation. Their weapons are definitely fully powered as are their shields.”

“This is ridiculous. Just open a channel,” said Michael.

Leva confirmed. “Channel open.”

Michael tugged at his jacket. “Justicar, let’s not escalate this any further than it already has. If you start firing we will be forced to defend ourselves. This will not end well for any of us. If this is what it takes, we are willing to withdraw from your space until this—misunderstanding has been resolved.”

There was no response.

Culsten had since taken the helm again. “They are not giving us many ways to escape, we are still mostly surrounded. The most direct course out of Krellon space is blocked off.”

“They don’t want us to stay and they don’t want us to go,” mused Star. “Make up your minds.”

“We cannot afford to get into a conflict here. Our mission hasn’t even started yet,” said Michael.

Star nodded. “Agreed. But that appears to be up to our friends out there at the moment. And I think more than anything else, we may have offended their sense of pride by not following their orders without question.”

"Sir, I'm detecting a high-frequency subspace message," said Leva.

Michael turned to look at his tactical officer. “For us?”

He shook his head. “It appears to be directed at the border vessels.”

“This could be very good or very bad for us,” said Star quietly.

“I think it’s the former,” said Deen with a small smile growing on her lips. “The ships are powering down weapons and are moving away. Whatever message they just received apparently advised them to back off.”

“Agreed,” said Leva. “Receiving a message from the lead vessel now. Text only. We are instructed to proceed to the Piqus system at best speed. We are not to diverge from our course for any reason or suffer the consequence.”

Star looked at her captain. “That it? No apology? No ‘sorry about nearly decorating your ship with your brains’?”

“I believe you were right the first time, Commander. This is about pride now. Considering the alternative, I think I’ll take it. Mister Culsten, if you would kindly get us out of here and take us where we need to go. The quicker the better.”

"Laying in a course and engaging at warp eight," the Krellonian helmsman confirmed.

“I read three of the vessels following us at a distance,” said Leva.

Michael nodded in acknowledgment and then let out a breath of air he hadn't realized he had kept in. "Keep an eye on them, Commander," he said and shot an exasperated look at his first officer. "If dealing with other Krellonian officials is going to be even half as challenging as this encounter was, I believe we are going to be in one hell of a mess here."

She nodded in full agreement. “This mission hasn’t even begun yet and I’m already dreading writing up that report. That’s got to be a new record.”
Part Two: Do No Harm - 3 by CeJay
3

She realized something was up the moment she had stepped out of the turbolift and onto deck thirteen, very nearly colliding with two crewmen transporting a couple of rather bulky containers on an obviously undersized anti-grav sled.

A potential cargo spill all over the floor was avoided at the last moment by Tazla’s quick reflexes and helping the two surprised crewmen by grabbing hold of the bulkier of the two crates before it could slip off the sled.

After a brief reminder of standard cargo transport procedures, Tazla continued towards her destination all the while noticing the much heavier than usual foot traffic, most of which seemingly concerned with moving equipment from one place to another.

This seemed odd to her.

As the ship’s first officer she prided herself in knowing exactly what was happening at any given time on Eagle, certainly any undertakings requiring this much personnel and hardware, and yet she was not aware of the exact purpose of what she had encountered. More importantly, she had certainly not signed off on it.

It didn’t seem to be limited to one specific department either. Among the busy crewmembers she encountered on her way down the corridor, she could spot medical and science personnel as well as engineers and quite a few faces belonging to people she knew worked in Nora’s security team.

She reached cargo bay two and found the heavy doors leading inside already wide open to accommodate the constant traffic of people coming and going, very few of whom were empty-handed.

Cargo bay two was Eagle’ssingle largest storage space, with perhaps the only exception being the main shuttle bay and the hangar deck directly below it, and remembering the last cargo manifest coming across her desk, she knew that it currently contained a wide range of equipment and other payloads which starships like Eagleoften carried to assist the crew in their varied mission objectives.

However, it now appeared as if the entire bay had been completely reorganized with much of the regular cargo having been removed in favor of what seemed to be crates upon crates of medical supplies and instruments many of which already unpacked from their storage containers.

Everything seemed very orderly arranged within designated areas inside the bay, from essential medication and drugs in one corner, to spare tricorders and other tools in another, stretchers, blankets and bandages, all the way to large and bulky items like bio beds, pre-fab parts for a field hospital and even a couple of industrial replicators for medical use.

A plethora of personnel, primarily blue-collared medical specialists and science officers were moving back and forth across the bay with noticeable purpose, working on adding to, sorting and organizing the equipment.

Tazla had seen all this before. In fact, in an earlier life, she had helped to write the book on this exact type of medical preparedness procedure.

She quickly found the brain behind this particular operation when she spotted Elijah Katanga speaking with Xylion near the center of the cargo bay, efficiently giving the Vulcan instructions. She made a beeline for the two men.

“I want to set up a forward containment area in shuttle bay two with a capacity for at least fifty patients as soon as possible. Liaise with Doctor Nelson regarding containment procedures required to ensure a level four facility. That means both force fields and physical containment sections. Let’s also be ready to have a contingency isolation ward in the main shuttle bay. It’s better to have it and not need it than not having it once we get overwhelmed with patients.”

The Vulcan was studiously making notes onto his padd as he was listening to the veteran physician’s instructions.

“Gentlemen? Somebody like to clue me into what we’re doing here?” she said as she stepped up to the two senior officers.

Xylion stopped working on the padd and looked up at her with what could only be considered a puzzled expression. He raised an eyebrow with apparent surprise before he glanced over at his colleague. “Doctor, I was under the impression that you had obtained approval for this course of action before commencing it.”

But Katanga ignored the Vulcan, focusing on Tazla instead. “I would think of all people you would recognize this. Or did that also get lost when your symbiont moved hosts?”
She frowned and swallowed the urge to bite back with a sarcastic reply. She had a good idea what he thought may have been lost in the transition from Dezwin Star to Tazla. He was, of course, wrong on both accounts. She took a moment to let her eyes wander across the bay. “Looks like a standard MAAP preparatory operation. Category three?”

“Four,” he corrected her.

She nodded. “Which is interesting since I do not recall seeing a request coming my way to approve any of this.”

“I am the chief medical officer on this ship. It is within my authority to initiate medical operations as I see fit.”

“Maybe,” she countered. “But not on this scale. And certainly not involving other ship departments. Looks to me you’ve involved half the crew in this exercise without so much as giving me a heads-up.”

“That’s why I asked you to come down here now,” he said, doing little to hide his annoyance with the way this conversation was going. “So you may rest assured that we know what we’re doing and authorize additional resources.”

“Commander,” she said to Xylion. “Could you give us a moment, please?”

He dipped his head slightly and then stepped away, appearing almost grateful to be excused.

“What are you doing, Eli?”

“Exactly what I said. What you can see with your own two eyes,” he said and then, apparently tiring of the conversation, moved on to inspect a row of medical tricorders and giving instructions to the crewmembers preparing the equipment.

Tazla followed him closely. “We still have no idea what it is we’re dealing with. We have been given no indication whatsoever of the nature of the epidemic or what kind of assistance the Krellonians even want from us. All that hardly justifies mobilizing on this scale.”

He stopped and turned to look at her. "We have been in orbit around this planet for over twelve hours now. What do you expect me to do in that time? Twiddle my thumbs and carry out theoretical analyses? We need to prepare for whatever we may find down there. This is how we prepare, in case you had forgotten."

She crossed her arms in front of her chest. “I have forgotten nothing.”

“Could have fooled me,” he said and moved on to look over the emergency medkits which had been neatly arranged in rows on a number temporary tables.

She uttered an exasperated sigh. “Alright, fine, you do your preparations and anything else you need to do, I’ll sign off on whatever other resources you need. But this thing between us has to stop. You want to be mad at me, be mad at me, but that doesn’t give you the right to do an end-around and pretend I am not your commanding officer. This isn’t MAAP and you’re not the director anymore. Something like this needs to be approved through the proper channels.”

With his back turned towards her, he kept his attention on inspecting the medkits.

“Eli?”

“Yes, I heard you, Commander. You are in charge and I didn’t follow the rules. Consider me chastised,” he mumbled without ever turning around.

She continued to stare daggers into his back to no apparent end. Then she turned around and made to leave.

“Commander?”

She stopped and turned around. “What else?”

“Twelve hours. That is not acceptable and you know it. Not when dealing with an epidemic,” he said.

“We don’t even know what it is.”

He nodded. “Exactly my point. Enough time has already been lost for us to just sit up here and wait for things to happen. We need to take action.”

She shook her head. “It’s out of our hands. We may have been asked here but we are still guests. If they don’t want us to help, there is nothing we can do.” She wasn’t entirely able to hide her own frustration over the way things had gone so far. Bad enough that it had very nearly come to blows with the Krellonian agents at the border. After finally arriving at Piqus VII, they had been advised to hold position in orbit and given no further instructions or information. In the meantime, the planet was clearly under a strict quarantine which seemed to include a total communications blackout, since no further hails to the surface had been answered.

“This is Merian V all over again,” he said. “You remember Merian V?”

“The Levodian flu outbreak, of course, I remember.”

“And the regional government was adamant that we did not get involved, believing that all they needed to fight the disease was faith in their gods. They were adamant that allowing us ‘heretics’ to set foot in their province would only make matters worse. Thousands of people lost their lives which we could have saved if we had been allowed access to the most affected areas sooner.”

She recalled that incident quite vividly, it had been one of the first true tests of the newly created Medical Assistance and Advisory Program which Eli and Dezwin had helped create. Back when they had both still worked as frontline doctors, right there in the middle of any hotspot planet which had requested Starfleet Medical’s help with a crisis. She also recalled his impressive persistence which had eventually worn down any objections from those government representatives who had fought tooth and nail against Starfleet involvement.

“This is a much more delicate situation than Merian V, Eli. We cannot afford to apply this kind of pressure here."

“See? That right there is the politician speaking. This new Star I hardly recognize. The one who thinks more about keeping her superiors content than caring about the suffering of people in need. I’ve never been that person. And I don’t want to be. My job is to save lives and I will do whatever it takes to make sure I get my job done.”

She glared at him, not appreciating his tone, or in fact, any of the words he had chosen.

“If you are not willing to do it, rest assured, I will. I’ll take this up with the captain and I’ll go right to those leaders on the planet. You know I will. And if that doesn’t help, I’ll track down whoever invited us here and harass the Krellonian head of state until they either kick us out or let us help.”

The staring contest between them lasted what seemed like minutes but thankfully it was cut short after just a few seconds by an incoming hail from the bridge. “Owens to Star.”

It took her another moment to answer while she kept her green eyes laser-focused on those of the man she had once called her closest friend. Then she broke contact to take the call. "Star here. Go ahead, sir."

“I think we might be finally getting somewhere. We’ve just received word that a government official is due to arrive in the system and willing to meet with us. He should be here within the hour.”

“Excellent news, sir.”

“Let’s hope so. I suggest you find Doctor Katanga and ask him to join us once he gets here.”

Her eyes found Elijah’s again. “I’m sure he will be delighted to hear that.”

“Owens out.”

Without uttering another word, Tazla Star turned on her heel and left the cargo bay.
Part Two: Do No Harm - 4 by CeJay
4

After their very nearly disastrous run-in with the Krellonian border patrol, Michael was more than a little wary about their meeting with the government official once his ship had arrived in the Piqus system some fourteen hours after Eagle’s arrival to the seventh planet.

The concern as it turned out had been unfounded since Councilman Yorlo was nothing like the belligerent Krellonians they had encountered at the border. Physically he was not nearly as impressive, where the border agents had been tall and muscular, Yorlo was short and squat, perhaps even a bit bulky not unlike many other government officials and politicians Michael had met over the years and who spent the majority of their time behind a desk. He wore his long, silvery hair in a similar style as Lif Culsten, tied together at the back of his head.

For his relatively small size, he seemed to have quite a bit of energy, or perhaps it was anxiety, since he had refused the chair Michael had offered him in the observation lounge and instead remained on his feet and kept pacing back and forth between the tall windows which currently offered an orbital view of Piqus VII.

Michael, along with Star and Katanga followed the seemingly agitated councilman with their eyes from their chairs. Michael had decided against inviting Culsten to this meeting since the helmsman had not been able to offer much assistance in their last meeting with his kinsmen.

"After hearing your version of events, the reports I have read from our border patrol are beginning to make a disturbingly amount of sense. I simply cannot believe they acted so obtusely after I had given such specific instructions about your arrival. This is very disappointing and I guarantee that this will not be the end of this matter."

“We’re just glad that your message reached them when it did,” said Michael, since having learned that it had been Yorlo who had managed to get the border patrol to stand down in the nick of time and before the entire situation could have turned into a bloody conflict.

“I don’t even want to think about what could have happened if it hadn’t. The political fallout alone, from a border skirmish with a Federation starship within our own territory, could have been catastrophic,” he said.

“Thankfully it didn’t come to that,” said Star.

Michael nodded. “You can rest assured that we would have pursued any possible avenue to avoid an open conflict.”

Yorlo stopped and glanced at the starship captain. “That is a very enlightened attitude, Captain, I commend you for it. I suppose it is true what they say about the Federation. Or at least those few rumors you hear behind closed doors. The truth of the matter is my government takes great pains to keep itself isolated, as you have no doubt seen with your own eyes. And information coming into the Star Alliance is strictly controlled. You will find that many of my fellow kinsmen believe in the inherent superiority of our people and our institutions and do not prescribe to anything that could even remotely challenge those perceptions.”

“I take it that is the reason we have been sitting on our hands for the last fourteen hours instead of being allowed to help with the medical crisis unfolding planetside?” said Katanga, never one afraid to mince words or cut right to the heart of the matter. Once again he ignored the sharp look he received from Tazla Star for his brusqueness.

Yorlo too took a moment consider the veteran doctor before he spoke. Then he began to nod slowly. “You can ascribe that to long-winded bureaucracy and good old fashioned xenophobia as well, yes,” he said and then finally took a seat at the table. “I wish I could have arrived here sooner to deal with the situation but that simply wasn’t possible.”

“We fully understand, Councilman,” said Star, once again letting Katanga know, with a quick sidelong glance, that diplomatic tact was a virtue she expected from all the officers under her command, no matter if they were ensigns right out of the Academy or grumpy old veterans who were going on their seventh decade in Starfleet. “What matters now is that you are here and you can hopefully speed up the process going forward.”

“I’ll certainly do whatever I can.”

Michael took over. “Perhaps you could start by filling us in as to what has happened on Piqus and why you have asked for our assistance. We have not been given much information so far.”

“Of course,” he said but apparently was not able to remain in his chair as he quickly jumped back onto his feet, indicating towards the planet behind him. “The first thing you must understand is that there is significant resistance to your being here. Not just from some of my colleagues in the Central Council who believe that any contact with outsiders is tantamount to a betrayal of Kellonina core values, but also from Piqus VII. The local chief administrator, a woman called Chella, has strongly protested Federation assistance.”

“I take it she was overruled,” said Michael.

“By a slim majority,” Yorlo said, nodding slowly. “And only after it became obvious that our own medical community would not find an answer to the epidemic currently sweeping across the planet perhaps before its already too late.”

“Let’s talk about this epidemic,” said Katanga, still not entirely able to keep his tone as polite as perhaps Star would have liked.

The councilman reached for a case he had brought with him and he had deposited on the chair next to his. He opened the slim case and retrieved a data padd not too different from those used within Starfleet. He activated a few commands and then handed it over Katanga across the table. "This contains everything we have learned so far. Hopefully, you will be able to understand the medical jargon. It is, I'm afraid to say, not my field of expertise." He regarded Michael next. "What we do know is that we believe that this is an artificially created disease."

“You think this was done on purpose?” Michael said. “By whom?”

Yorlo uttered a sigh. "There are certain elements within our society who feel that they are treated unfairly and are known to resort to violence. This would mark the first time they have shown such a level of commitment and planning but the fact that only a specific segment of the population is affected supports our theory that a terrorist organization is behind this."

Katanga it seemed, had already stopped listening, instead he was entirely focused on the content of the padd Yorlo had passed to him, intently studying its contents, his frown only deepening the more he read.

“Doctor, what can you tell from that data?” Michael said after having taken note of the Katanga’s intense study of the padd.

“Not nearly enough,” he said and continued reading without so much as glancing up once, almost as if the people around him had suddenly ceased to be.

“Eli?” Star prompted gently but with a slight edge in her tone. “Anything you can share with us?”

He still refused to make eye contact. “I will need some time to study this.”

“Initial impression then, if you please, Doctor,” Michael said, trying hard not to let his impatience surface. He understood that in a medical crisis such as this, he couldn’t have asked for a better medical professional, with more experience or knowledge in his field. He also understood that this level of competence oftentimes came with eccentricity. He was willing to put up with it if it would get results. To a degree.

“At first blush, this looks like a retrovirus which attacks the host's immune system to a degree that it is unable to fight off any kind of infections or diseases and will eventually lead to the patient's death.”

Michael nodded. While he couldn't claim to be a medical expert, far from it, he possessed a basic understanding of how retroviruses worked and of medical conditions affecting the immune system. “Those kinds of conditions, don't they usually take years to fully develop? It sounds to me that this epidemic has already caused a number of fatalities in a very short time.”

“Yes,” Yorlo said quickly. “The latest reports from Piqus indicate that three hundred people have died from this illness in less than a week.”

Katanga put down the padd. “I will need more to go on than this. I need to see blood work and full body scans. I need tissue samples of healthy and infected patients. I need to know the exact stages of this condition. In short, I need to do a full medical examination on patients who have contracted this disease. We’ve already made all the required preparations and could start transferring patients within the hour.”

Yorlo looked skeptical.

“Councilman,” Katanga said sternly. “The longer we hesitate on this, the longer it will take before we get to the bottom of this epidemic and the more people will lose their lives, possibly needlessly. If there is even the slightest chance to stop this epidemic from spreading, we need to act now. Too much time has already been wasted.”

"Of course, I understand this," he said. "But it will be nearly impossible for me to convince Chella to allow Krellonians to be transported to an off-world vessel. She simply won't agree to it and in those matters, even the Central Council will likely not be able to overrule her. Certainly not in the kind of time frames we need."

“If we can’t bring patients up here, maybe we can get Doctor Katanga to the patients,” said Star.

“As long as I can start examinations, I don’t care if I have to do it in a broom closet.”

“A supervised visit to the surface may be something that could be arranged,” Yorlo said. “I will attempt to make this happen as soon as I return to my ship.” He glanced at Michael. “However, before that, I must ask a favor of you, Captain.”

He gave him a short nod to proceed.

“I would very much like to speak to my nephew.” Before Michael could ask, Yorlo continued. “I believe he serves as an officer on your ship.”



* * *




It hadn't been very long ago, just a few weeks, since Lif Culsten had last seen his uncle. It had been during a most awkward family gathering at his grandparents' residence on the Krellon homeworld which Louise and he and visited during their shore leave much to his displeasure.

Now Yorlo had shown up at his doorstep and after a moment of surprise of finding him standing outside his quarters, escorted there by Tazla Star, Lif had invited him inside.

“So this is how Starfleet officers live?” he said as he inspected his quarters which despite his relative youth and low rank, were decently sized thanks to his position on the senior staff. “Quite impressive compared to the cramped conditions of an Alliance Navy ship. And yet quite a step down from what you were used to at home, no?”

Lif watched his uncle silently as he toured his quarters, paying close attention to most everything he could see, the standard, Starfleet-issue furniture, the decorations, including framed pictures of him and his friends from his Academy days and even his choice of Earth-based houseplants. Yorlo, he noticed, still had that same high energy he'd displayed when Lif had been a child and when he and his aunt had visited him in his grandparents' home on regular occasions.

He stopped his brief survey and glanced back towards the owner of the quarters. "If it were not for the photographs, it would be difficult to guess that the person who lives here is a Krellonian," he said and if he tried to keep his tone free of judgment, he was not entirely successful. "No scrolls of the Infallible Creator's Blessing, no representations of the Yellow Rose, not a single piece of art from within the Alliance."

“I haven’t had a chance to unpack,” he said lamely.

Yorlo offered a grin, fully aware clearly of Lif’s tendencies to attempt to distance himself from his own culture. Something that had been obvious even in his adolescent years and just before he had left for the Federation. “And how is your charming, young friend. Louise, was it? I took quite a liking to her.”

“She’s well.”

“You don’t live together?”

“She has her own quarters.”

“Right,” he said and acknowledged his disinterest in discussing his personal matters with him.

“Can I offer you something? A beverage perhaps?” he said, almost as an afterthought.

Yorlo shook his head. “Perhaps some other time. I have much to do after I leave here today.”

“You want to tell me why you are here?”

“It’s about your aunt.”

His eyes grew a little wider. “Garla?”

“She is up to something and I don’t know what it is. I need you to find out.”

Lif couldn’t believe his ears. “You have arranged for a Federation starship, half a galaxy away, to come all the way out here and into Alliance space, breaking who knows how many local taboos, just so you could get me to spy on your wife for you?”

“Of course not,” Yorlo quickly shot back. “In case you hadn’t heard, there is a medical emergency on Piqus VII and hundreds of people are dead or dying. That is a fact. A planet-wide quarantine is in effect and Alliance doctors are not even close to finding a cure. All those things are true and whether the local administrators or my opponents in the Council like it or not, we will need Starfleet’s help to try and defeat this pandemic.”

Lif nodded slowly. “And how does Garla fit into all that?”

He uttered a heavy sigh and walked up to one of the windows but when he realized that it was impossible to see the planet from this angle, he turned back to his nephew. “That is what I don’t know and why I need you. She has been diverting resources to this backwater system for years now, and never more than in the last few months. Her status as a Sentinel has allowed her to operate with almost complete autonomy and she has practically refused to answer any questions the Central Council has demanded regarding her operations.”

“You mean your questions.”

His expression hardened. “They are one and the same.”

“I find it difficult to believe that you don’t have your own resources in place to deal with this other than involving me and Eagle.”

Yorlo waved him off. "Of course I do. There are a number of requests which have been formally submitted to the Eye for full disclosure of any operations taking place in this system. And while you may have forgotten much about our people, I trust you remember the agonizingly slow process of our bureaucracy. It will take weeks for those requests to be actioned. Perhaps months. When this latest crisis unfolded and I realized that we needed foreign assistance, I knew how to address both problems."

“Two birds.”

The elder Krellonian gave his younger kinsmen a puzzled look, clearly not understanding the reference.

“I still don’t understand what you expect me to do about this.”

“Garla is on Piqus VII, that much I know. I will look into giving you and your doctor permission to visit the surface. In fact, getting authorization for you should be much easier. Once there I want you to seek her out and talk to her. You know she still adores you, has done so ever since you were a child. When the two of us still lived together, she spoke of you often and I also know that she spoke to you privately when you last saw her. No doubt to convince you to work with her.”

“You want me to spy on my aunt? A Sentinel of the Eye, a spymaster,” he said, sounding just as disbelieving as he felt. “She’s going to see right through me the moment I step through her doors.”

But he shook his head. “Garla might be very good at what she does but she has one important weakness. She is very sentimental and she cares about family. I know she’ll open up to you. And whatever it is that she is up to here, I’m convinced it is bad news for the Alliance. You haven’t been here but trust me when I tell you that her political views have become increasingly extremist over the years. It is the reason we drifted apart as much as we did. I fear somebody will have to stop her.”

He quickly shook his head. “That’s not going to be me.”

"Maybe not. But you can help find out what it is she is doing and how she plans to do it. I am not asking for me, Liftu. I'm asking for your mother and father. For your younger brother and everyone else whose lives will be affected, perhaps even destroyed by what she's up to. You may have turned your back on your people, but can you really live with turning them down in the hour of their greatest need? Can you live with knowing that you could have stopped it all before it even started, if only you had taken action? I implore you, Lif, to help your people and your family to survive this latest crisis before it is too late."



* * *




“You turned him down?” Tazla Star said with palpable surprise evident in her voice as she considered the Krellonian sitting in one of the two guest chairs facing Captain Owens’ desk in his ready room. Still standing by the wall, she shot a baffled look at the captain sitting in his chair.

“May I ask why?” said Michael who shared his first officer’s surprise after Culsten had briefed them both on his meeting with his uncle which had concluded just minutes earlier in his quarters.

The helmsman considered the question for a moment, or much more likely, his answer. “It’s just not something I feel very comfortable about, sir. You have to understand, Garla and I, we were very close when I was growing up. For a time, while my mother had fallen ill, she was practically my ersatz parent. I don’t like the idea of spying on her for Yorlo.”

“What if he’s right and whatever it is she’s doing could pose a serious danger to the Krellonian people?” asked Star.

“I find that hard to believe,” he said and shook his head. “Garla has always been a patriot first and foremost and a traditionalist second. I don’t doubt that she is up to something, that much was obvious when she last spoke to me on the homeworld but I cannot believe she intends to harm the Star Alliance or her own people.”

“That’s when she tried to recruit you?” said Michael who recalled that he had mentioned this previously.

“It wasn’t what you would call a hard sell,” he quickly clarified. “She felt she was doing important work. She seemed passionate about it and believed that I could be a true asset to her in achieving her goals. But she didn’t offer many details and it would have involved me leaving Eagleand Starfleet. Coming back to Krellon. That’s not something I’m prepared to do.”

Michael simply stared at him for a moment as he experienced a rather painful déjà vu. After all, what the young Krellonian had described was almost the exact same situation he had found himself in just a few weeks earlier, when his father had made his case to him—entirely unexpectedly—to leave Eaglebehind and join him to work on a project which he had believed to be of the uttermost importance to the Federation. And just like Garla had apparently done when trying to convince his nephew, his father had refused to share the true nature of that project. And just like Culsten, Michael had turned him down.

Star, apparently sensing that Michael was drawing parallels to his own experiences, continued. “I think you should reconsider, Lieutenant. Whatever it is that your aunt is working on, it clearly has your uncle greatly worried. If there is a chance that this could develop into some sort of threat to Krellon or even beyond, it would be better to know about it early instead of risking having to face a possible crisis unprepared.”

Culsten added a heavy sigh. “To be entirely honest with you, Commander, I have my reasons to doubt Yorlo’s motivations in this matter.”

“How so?” asked Michael.

Culsten made eye contact with the captain. “Garla and Yorlo have been separated for quite some time and there is a lot of personal animosity between the two of them. Animosity that goes beyond differences in philosophies and political convictions.”

“You think it’s personal?”

Culsten nodded. “I’m convinced that it is.”

Michael had heard enough for now. "Very well, Lif. Thanks for coming up here and telling us about this." He said this even though it had been Star who had to prompt Culsten to give them both a recap of his conversation with his uncle.

“Of course,” he said and stood. “Sir,” he said respectfully and gave Star a brief nod as well before he left the ready room.

Star turned to the captain as soon as the doors had closed behind the helmsman. “So that was interesting.”

Michael leaned back in his chair. "The timing of all this is certainly suspicious. We've got a possible alien invasion attempt in the sector, potentially aided by people within the Krellonian Star Alliance. The outbreak of a mysterious illness on a populated Krellonian colony within the same sector, and a suspicious Krellonian intelligent agent operating on that very same planet to unknown ends which have her own people concerned enough to break a century-old isolationist policy and inviting us here."

The Trill took the chair Culsten had only recently vacated. "When I was a child I was very fond of an Earth game called Connect the Dots," she said. "I have a growing suspicion that all these dots might fit together somehow."

“Just one problem. That game you speak off, it only works if you know how the dots connect to each other. So far we have no idea.”

Star leaned closer. “Culsten’s attitude towards all this is rather disappointing. I was hoping he’d be more cooperative in helping us solve this puzzle.”

“In his defense, he doesn’t yet know that there is a puzzle to be solved.”

“Still,” she said, shaking her head slightly. “He has not exactly been helpful so far when it comes to dealing with his own people.”

“It isn’t difficult to tell that he doesn’t like being back here. He turned his back on Krellon a long time ago and I have to assume for good reason.”

“He is also a Starfleet officer. We could order him to meet with his aunt.”

This time it was Michael who shook his head. “How can I give that order when I can't even trust the very same people who have put us on this course to begin with? I won't force him to face a family he doesn't wish to deal with. Not unless I know for sure that it is crucial he does so. For now, we'll focus our efforts on learning more about this epidemic and help where we can. That might buy us enough goodwill with Krellonian leaders to learn more about any possible connections with the subspace aliens and their plans.”

Star seemingly knew enough about Michael's own family issues to know not push him on this point and eventually nodded. “It would help if we could get access to the planet. And ideally, before Elijah hijacks a shuttle out of pure frustration and makes a run for the surface on his own.”
Part Two: Do No Harm - 5 by CeJay
5

Ultimately, Elijah Katanga had not needed to hijack a shuttle and instead had managed to wear down any resistance simply by his sheer persistence and tenacity, tricks he was well versed in thanks to his long and established career in the medical field and working with foreign government officials who had, more often than not, been unenthusiastic about the notion of allowing alien medical personnel to get involved in internal health crises.

Elijah had not been above sending one communiqué after the next to anyone and everyone who could possibly speed up the process of allowing him access to the planet below. He had started with the captain, purposefully going around Star, he had practically spammed Owens’ inbox with statistical reports which clearly demonstrated the death toll within an infected population, correlated directly with the time of intervention by knowledgeable doctors and researchers.

Of course, fully cognizant that the captain himself was not in a position to make a decision on this himself, he had started to send on those same reports, including case studies of various epidemics which had very nearly wiped out entire populations to Yorlo’s ship which had remained in close proximity to Eagleever since his visit.

He had been undeterred when the Krellonian official had kindly asked that he ceased the constant stream of data he was transmitting. Instead, he had managed, with a little help from DeMara Deen, to get around the communications blackout on the surface and found comm. addresses for the local government offices, the health department and even the personal address of Chief Administrator Chella herself who had sent back more than a few biting replies, not at all appreciating Elijah's initiative.

But eight hours after Yorlo's first visit and the beginning of his relentless campaign, a somewhat exasperated Captain Owens had informed Elijah that Yorlo had managed to obtain permission for Elijah and a small away team to beam directly into one of Piqus' medical facilities. Elijah, of course, had already been fully prepared once the word had finally come through. He had identified which members of his team he wanted to come along, had already arranged all the equipment and medication that he thought would be required and was the first man in the transporter room, fully decked out in a biological isolation suit, ready to beam to the planet.

Star joined him and the medical team with Nora Laas just a few moments later, both dressed in the same containment outfits. "Alright, here are the ground rules we've been given and we've been told to strictly observe at all times," said Star, addressing the away team of five. "We are beaming directly into one of Piqus' main medical facilities which, as far as we are told, currently houses a large number of infected patients. We will arrive unarmed and after beam-in we will be scanned by local security. We will then be escorted to a single wing of the hospital where we will have one standard hour to study a small number of patients. After the hour has expired we are expected to leave the planet. Everybody clear on this?" While she spoke she kept her eyes solely on Elijah.

“Let’s just get down there, shall we?” he said impatiently.

“Yes, let’s go,” she said but quickly stepped up to him and holding on to his arm before he could go and join the others on the transporter platform. “We’ll have another conversation about your unsanctioned information campaign later.”

He regarded her with a scowl. “Got us results, didn’t it?”

“Funny, here I thought you didn’t prescribe to the theory of the end justifying the means.”

“I subscribe to any theory that allows me to save lives while keeping the means justifiable,” he shot back.

“Right,” she nodded. “And you get to decide if they are?”

He freed his arm. “We’re wasting time,” he said and stepped up onto the platform.

Moments later the away team materialized in the medical facility. Elijah immediately identified the white, round and mostly featureless room as some sort of quarantine chamber. It was barely large enough to accommodate the entire team and the bright light blinded him for a moment.

Star took a step forward. “Hello? My name is Commander Star from the starship Eagle. We’ve—“

“Stay still,”the booming voice interrupted her. It was so loud and unexpected, it caused Elijah to reach for his head as he felt the sound waves penetrating his skull.

“Whatever happened to good old-fashioned hospitality?” Nora said.

“Let’s just do as they say,” said Elijah. “I’m sure this is nothing more than a safety precaution.”

A buzzing sound filled the air and moments later various bright blue light beams began to sweep across the small chamber and over their bodies.

“What the Prophets?” said Nora.

“Medical scans. Standard procedure,” Elijah said.

“A heads-up would have been nice,” said the Bajoran.

The buzzing stopped as quickly as it had begun, as did the scans. The entire forward section of the room, which turned out to be a curved door, started to slide sideways to reveal the room beyond. Once it was fully open, Elijah could spot six figures in green isolation suit which were slightly bulkier than the Starfleet-issue version they were wearing. Four of the figures had sidearms strapped to their chest.

“You may step out now,”the voice said, this time at a much more reasonable volume.

Star led the way but Elijah was only a step behind her.

The lead figure waiting for them, a woman of average height and middle age welcomed them. “I am Chief Administrator Chella. Welcome to Piqus.” She sounded anything but welcoming.

“Thank you for having us, Chief Administrator,” Star said. “This is Doctor Elijah Katanga, our chief medical officer. Lieutenant Nora Laas, security chief, and Doctors Barry Nelson and L’Nel.”

Chella considered Elijah first and foremost. “Doctor Katanga. I have heard quite a bit about you. Most of it from you directly. And quite frankly much more than I would have liked. Before you leave you will have to share with us how you managed to circumvent the communications blackout.”

“I have to admit that those things are not within my expertise. Our time would probably be served much better if you could show us to your patients who have contracted the disease.”

Chella kept her displeased gaze on him a while longer. It bothered him very little. He had long since gotten used to the fact that people didn’t like him. He had been given that very same look by Star just moments earlier and as far as he was concerned it was of little consequence what others thought about him as long as he got to do his job.

“Shall we?” he said with a forced smile on his lips.

“We’ll head directly to our main ward where we keep the worst cases. Don’t deviate from our directions and do not slow down or loiter until we reach our destination,” she said sharply and then turned towards the exit of the preparation chamber.

Following her and her guards, the team stepped into a jade colored corridor and the very first thing Elijah noticed were the many patients which were littering the walls of the corridor. Most of them were placed on mobile hospital beds but quite a few were on stretchers on the floor. His first instinct was to examine these people more closely and get some readings but the security guards behind him wouldn’t let him slow down.

A purely visual examination told him that the majority of these patients were likely at an early stage of this illness. All were displaying clear symptoms of immune system deficiencies, including low energy, clammy and pale-looking skin and signs of mild respiratory distress, like coughing and difficulty breathing.

The fact that these patients had been placed in the corridor, further told him that the medical facilities on this planet had already exceeded their capacity. This epidemic was getting out of control.

“These patients right here. What stage are they?”

“We call this stage two,” said the man by Chella’s side. “Patients at this stage are no longer ambulatory and need to be hospitalized. Patients lose consciousness around stage four and become acutely terminal at stage five.”

“This is Urnea Turee,” said Chella, indicating to the man who had spoken. “He is the head of our health department. We have over two hundred highly trained physicians and researchers here on Piqus. To be honest, if they are unable to determine the nature of this disease, I don’t really see what you Starfleet types can do. I don’t believe for even a moment that the Federation has some sort of magical medical answer to the ills of the galaxy.”

“Perhaps not,” Star said. “But we might offer a new perspective. The Federation has accumulated medical knowledge from hundreds of worlds over many centuries. And we are more than happy to share any such knowledge that might assist you in treating this outbreak.”

Chella was not impressed. “You’ll find Krellonian physiology quite unique to what you are used to. I would be surprised if you have come across anything that could be useful to us,” she said without slowing her stride.

They stepped into a large, open plan treatment room which was packed with occupied beds, allowing very little room for much else. It was in Elijah’s professional opinion, a terribly ineffective way to treat and examine patients with very little consideration given to medical staff and equipment. This, to him, looked more like a place for people to die rather than trying to save their lives.

Chella and her people finally slowed down, if for no other reason than that there was not enough space in the room to move quickly or at anything other than single file.

“These patients are mostly stage four and five,” said Turee who handed Elijah a medical padd containing information on one of the patients they had stepped up on, an unconscious young boy.

He reviewed the data and realized that this particular patient had apparently contracted the illness just six days earlier. He had moved through the stages of the disease surprisingly quickly, reaching stage three in just four days. According to the chart, he had entered the final stage a day earlier and had been given another two to three days at the most. The patient was only nine years old.

“Is this rapid deterioration consistent?” Elijah asked as he kept reading the patient’s file.

Turee nodded. “Unfortunately, it isn’t uncommon. Children and the elderly are particularly susceptible. Patients normally expire between seven and twenty days after entering stage one and exhibiting early symptoms.”

“I would be interested to see the full work-up of the RNA decay for this patient and compare this with the breakdown rate for patients at all stages.”

Turee looked at Chella for a moment before glancing back at Elijah.

“Is there a problem with that?” he asked.

The administrator answered the question. “We don’t have full cellular work-ups of all patients,” she said, sounding somewhat defensive.

“What? Why not?”

“Look around you, Doctor,” Chella said, letting her anger peak through now. “We have thousands of patients all across the planet. We can’t possibly have work-ups for every single case.”

“We do have general samples for various patients at different stages,” said Turee. “There are at least thirty samples available to review if you wish.”

But Elijah quickly shook his head. “That’s not enough. Not for thousands of patients with such a high infection rate. I don’t care if you are human, Krellonian or a Horta. Individuals do not all behave in the same manner. What might work for one patient is not guaranteed to work on another. We need much more data if we want any hope of getting to the bottom of this.”
Chella crossed her arms in front of her chest. “We don’t have the manpower or equipment for what you are suggesting.”

“That’s why we’re here,” said Star, quickly seeing her way in. “We are at your disposal.”

“And what exactly can the five of you do in one hour?” asked the administrator, clearly unexcited by Star’s offer.

“In one hour? Down here?” Elijah said. “Next to nothing. But we have a fully prepped medical facility set up on Eaglewith enough capacity for at least two hundred patients and a staff of nearly as many medical personnel and researchers to work on live tissue and blood samples around the clock. All you have to do is give the word and we can get started.”

It was Star who spoke up before the Krellonian could. “Doctor, I think perhaps we are getting a little ahead of ourselves here. We don’t even know yet what we are dealing with. There is a reason the planet is under a quarantine.”

Elijah didn't appreciate Star's overly cautious attitude. She may have been Dezwin Star once, a brilliant physician in his time, but clearly, her medical instincts had been dulled ever since her symbiont had moved into a new host body. Or even worse, her priorities had shifted.

“There is no way I will authorize Krellonian citizens under my protection to be transported onto a Starfleet vessel to be subjugated to the Creator knows what tests and probes,” Chella said. “Bad enough that I have to content with one looming in orbit above my world.”

“Fine. There is no reason we cannot set up on the surface instead. Wouldn’t be the first time. It will take a little longer but I have everything already prepared. We can have a field hospital in place within a solar day.”

Chella shook her head. “No. I was willing to allow for you to come down here and see what we are dealing with and share any data on this illness we have learned so far. But I will not allow Starfleet to set up any kind of facility on the surface, no matter how temporary.”

“Chief Administrator,” Star said, turning to Chella. “We have come here to help you in any way we can. To try and find a way to contain this epidemic and keep it from spreading and possibly devastated your entire world. But we can’t do this unless you let us.”

Chella stuck to her guns and Elijah had already stopped listening to the back and forth between the two women. Instead, he had stepped closer to the dying boy, looking over his thin and frail body, his now hairless head, the red rashes which had formed on his skin and the shallow, uneasy breathing as he slept. He consulted the data chart again and after a moment found a way to compare his stats with those of other patients.

Nora noticed his preoccupation. “What are you thinking, Doctor?”

“I think that we can help this boy.”

The Bajoran looked back towards Star and Chella who were still arguing before she considered him again. "Doesn't look like they really want our help on this."

He looked up then. “There comes a time you just have to take the initiative.”

“What does that mean?”

“A tactical move, Lieutenant. I’m sure you are quite familiar with the concept in your line of work. It’s not all that different in what I do.”

The security officer still seemed befuddled.

“It’s time for a calculated risk and to force a decision,” he said.

She quickly shook her head. “Not sure that’s a good idea.”

“As long as the means are justified,” he said and reached for the seal of his suit which kept his helmet in place.”

“Doctor, no,” but Nora’s warning came too late and she was not quick enough to reach him in time to stop him from opening the seal and pulling off the top part of his suit.

Star whirled around to look at him with total astonishment, along with the rest of the away team and the Krellonian delegation.

“Gods, Eli. What have you done?”



* * *




She couldn't quite remember ever having seen him quite this angry before. Michael Owens was one of the most even-tempered people she had ever known which one couldn't take for granted in a profession that tended to attract ego and ambition. At this present moment, however, his eyes looked as if they were on fire, even as they stared back at them via just one half of a computer monitor inside a small administrative office at the medical facility on Piqus.

Tazla Star knew exactly how he felt. After all, she was experiencing very similar feelings at present, still so upset over what had transpired a short while earlier, she didn’t trust herself to speak and was thankful that the captain had started out first, speaking up before she, or Yorlo, who took up the other half of the same screen and looked just as exasperated, had the chance. “Doctor, I have to say, I am extremely disappointed by your lack of judgment in this matter. Not only have you violated direct orders, you have put yourself and possibly the entire away team at risk by your actions.”

Katanga, who had since entirely removed his isolation suit, took the admonishment in stride, his arms stubbornly folded in front of his chest as if he was unwilling to accept that he had done anything wrong at all. “The only person I have put at risk is myself.”

“I disagree, but that will have to be a conversation for another time,”said Owens via the comm. channel, addressing him and the other two people with him in the office, Tazla Star and Chief Administrator Chella, as well as Councilman Yorlo who had joined this conference call from his ship. “We need to focus on our next steps.”

Chella shook her head. “Nothing has changed as far as I am concerned. The fact that one of your officers has purposefully exposed himself to this epidemic is not relevant to our previous arrangement. Which, in case you have forgotten, is that you retrieve your team after one hour. That hour expired ten minutes ago.”

“I am not comfortable with allowing a potentially infected person to leave the surface and risk further contamination,”said Yorlo.

“They brought this on themselves,” Chella said. “And the only contamination at risk here is to Starfleet. There is no reason for their vessel to have any further interaction with Krellonians after they have left orbit and returned to their space. Besides,” she added and looked at Katanga. “Did you not greatly espouse the quarantine procedures of your own facilities? Return to your ship and leave us be. If you wish to study this epidemic further, you may do so on yourself.”

Katanga met Chella's infuriated gaze with his own steely expression. "Let me ask you something, Administrator," he said and even Star noticed that the tone of his voice had noticeably softened. "What exactly do you fear you stand to lose by our involvement here? And more importantly: Does it not outweigh what you might gain?" He raised a padd he had been passed earlier and which he had kept hold of. “I've managed to run a few estimates based on the admittedly scant data I've been privy to so far. You currently have six thousand confirmed cases of the Piqus Plague.”

Chella frowned at the way he had coined the disease but kept her displeasure to herself for now.

“An average of twenty new cases are reported every day and every day you suffer at least ten fatalities. I'm not a mathematician but even I can tell you that at this rate your little colony here is going to stop functioning very soon. You still have no viable treatment, you haven't even found a way to slow down this virus and your quarantine measures, to be frank, are so inadequate, they might as well not exist at all. You are on the verge of losing control of this epidemic. In fact, I believe you have already gone over the cliff and are in a free fall. I guess the only question you have left to answer is: Do you wish your legacy to be the administrator who doomed her own colony or the one who was responsible for saving it in its darkest hour?”
Part Two: Do No Harm - 6 by CeJay
6


“We have identified this abandoned quarry as an ideal location for the temporary facility. It is located in an unpopulated area, twenty-five point four kilometers to the North of the capital city. The hospital will have an initial capacity to hold one hundred and twelve patients and sixty members of staff.”

Michael Owens looked over the plan which included not just the modular design of the field hospital, but also a map of its proposed location, all displayed on the inset wall monitor of the observation lounge while Xylion talked him through the proposal. Tazla Star who had returned from the surface stood nearby as well while Doctor Katanga's image was displayed in a rectangle at the bottom of the screen, still at the hospital in the city on the surface.

“And Administrator Chella has approved all this?” Michael asked.

Star nodded. "Yes. We can't have more than fifty personnel on the planet and we are not allowed from entering the capital or any other population centers, but she has signed-off on the location and agreed to give us access to patients for transfer and treatment at our facility. Under supervision."

“She’s not exactly happy about it but in the end, it’s the only choice and she knows that,”Katanga said.

“She’s not the only one displeased with how we got to this point, Doctor, I suggest you keep that in mind for when you return to the ship,” Michael said sternly.

“And I will. But you forgive me if I keep my focus on trying to find a way to stop this epidemic first.”

Michael turned to the Vulcan science officer. “How quickly can we get set-up?”

“The base foundation can be completed within three hours. This will allow us to add the first module in six hours and twenty-six minutes. If we encounter no unexpected delays, the facility can be operational within nine hours.”

“That’s pretty impressive,” said Michael.

“The plans are primarily based on Doctor Katanga’s work,” the Vulcan said.

Star glanced at the small image of the octogenarian physician on the screen. “You’ve planned all this, haven’t you?”

He shrugged. “You give me too much credit. But I did expect that we might be required to move our staging area to the surface. And I’ve had more than enough time to make preparations while we were sitting on our hands.”

Michael referred to his first officer, knowing full well her history, not just with Katanga but also with precisely this kind of work.

The Trill nodded. "It's definitely not the first time that we put something together in such a short time frame. When it comes to medical and disaster preparedness, every minute counts, so the quicker you can get your infrastructure in place the better. Eli and my former host worked hard to create a blueprint to allow such a rapid deployment."

Before Michael could respond, he was cut-off by an incoming audio message. “Bridge to captain.”

He glanced towards the ceiling. “Go ahead.”

“Sir,”Lieutenant Stanmore, the beta-shift operations manager began. “We are receiving a priority distress signal from the Agamemnon.”

That immediately captured his full attention. “Any details?

“No, sir. Just that they require immediate assistance.”

“Do we have their location?” asked Star.

“She is still in the Diaspora. About half a light-year away.”

Xylion had naturally already made the calculations in his head. “We could reach the Agamemnonin eleven point six two standard hours at warp eight point five.”

"Thank you, Lieutenant. Owens out," he said, closing the channel and keeping his eyes on Xylion before letting them fall back to Katanga on the screen. "Gentlemen, this changes our timetable somewhat."

Katanga nodded. “It is not ideal, but strictly speaking, we don’t need Eagleto build the facility. We can transport all building materials and pre-fab sections directly onto the surface and assemble them there. It might take a little longer to bring it all together and it would be a tight fit for a couple of days but it can be done.”

Xylion nodded. “I agree with the Doctor. We would also have to allow for an engineering team to join us.”

Katanga was already thinking ahead."I'm sure I can get Chella to agree to a slightly higher number of personnel, especially if it means she won't have a Starfleet ship above her in orbit. Xylion, if you can organize matters on your end, I don't see why we can't have everything we need unloaded within a few hours if everybody chips in. Hell, compared to our timetable back at Yerendi XI, this will be a walk in the park."

"Yerendi XI required us to transport medical supplies to a war-torn continent while we were being fired upon by both sides of the conflict," said Star with a small grin, recounting her adventures working with Katanga as part of the organization they had created. "I agree, I think we should be able to pull this one off."

But Michael had reservations, none of which were related to the efficiency of Xylion, Katanga and the rest of his crew to build a field hospital on a mostly unknown world without a starship to support them. Bad enough that Donners and her ship were likely in trouble, he was concerned about the idea of leaving a sizeable number of his crew on a planet which so far had not shown itself to be the most hospitable one to strangers. The last few times he remembered being in similar situations, it had not worked out very well for them.

Katanga could spot his reluctance. "I don't think we have much of a choice here, Captain. Naturally, we must respond to the distress signal but if we don't get started on building this facility now, we might never get another chance. Not to mention that we are already way behind the curve in our battle against this disease.Any further delays may mean that any help we can provide will be too little too late.”

"Doctor, you do not need to sell me on the urgency of the matter, you've already done a more than adequate job on that," he said and then looked towards Xylion. "Commander, liaise with Doctor Katanga on the surface directly. Bring in Lieutenant Hopkins and whoever else you need. Get me a feasible plan for making this work within the next half hour."

Xylion nodded but Katanga, unsurprisingly, was not entirely pleased. “Captain, that will be another half an hour we’ll lose while we await a decision. I would suggest—“

“Duly noted, Doctor,” Michael said but refused to let Katanga have his say this time. “Stand by, you’ll hear from us shortly. Eagleout." And with that, he tapped a command on the screen to cut the connection.

Xylion was already on his way out the door to prepare the report the captain had demanded.

Michael didn’t speak until the science officer had cleared the room. “So help me God, one of these days I am going to lose my patience with that man.”

"I think I may already have," said Star. "I have to be honest, I had forgotten how stubborn and obstinate he can be to work with. I had to deal with this kind of behavior for years and in hindsight, I should have taken better steps to find a way to curb his ways while he's serving on this ship."

Michael almost felt pity for his first officer. “To be honest, I get the impression you might have more luck taming a mugatothan getting Doctor Katanga to follow the rules.”

“I hate to say it, and I certainly don’t condone what he has done so far, but he has a point. I worked on enough medical emergencies to know that we are already on the back foot to try and find a way to slow down or even stop this disease.”

He nodded. “I’m not disputing that. And I also know that Katanga’s unorthodox methods may have just given us the opportunity to learn more about this potential threat Jarik is so concerned about.”

“What do you want to do?”

He considered that for a moment. Just a few minutes ago, he had been fully determined to see things through, put as many resources and personnel as were needed on the surface to ensure Katanga had every tool at his disposal to find a cure for a deadly disease sweeping across that world. But things had changed and he could not ignore the urgency of Agamemnon’sdistress signal which not only meant that the ship and crew were in serious danger, but was also very likely related to their wider mission of trying to prevent a full-scale incursion. The distress call could have very well have been the first precursor. For all they knew, Agamemnonmay have stumbled across an invading fleet.

"We'll have to pursue both for now. We can't afford to ignore either emergency. I want you to stay here along with Katanga and his team. Speak to Chella again if you have to, but I want a full security detail and every shuttle we can spare to stay behind with you until we can return. If things go poorly, I need to know that you have an exit strategy."

“Understood.”

“And take Lif with you as well. I know he won’t want to go but he remains our best option to learn more about any possible links between the Krellonians and these invading aliens. I am not going to order him to talk to people, but I want you to try and change his mind.”

“Which will be much easier if he’s on the same planet,” she said and nodded. “We better get started.”

“One last thing,” Michael said before Star could leave the observation lounge. “This cannot become another Tiaita.”

Star froze and Michael was fairly sure why. After all, their mission on Tiaita had ended in disaster thanks, primarily, to clandestine Federation involvement, including hers. He liked to think that she had become a different person since those fateful events had occurred.

“It won’t be,” she said resolutely.

He gave her short nod, accepting that she’d do anything in her power to ensure it wouldn’t. But even as he watched her leave, he wasn’t entirely sure if it was going to be enough.
Part Three: A House Divided - 1 by CeJay
Part Three: A House Divided



1


The northern continent of Piqus VII was a cold and barren place made even more inhospitable by the frigid gusts of winds that swept across the lands at irregular intervals and Tazla Star couldn’t help but wonder who had thought it a good idea to establish a colony on this world.

From the little background she had been able to get her hands on, the Piqus system had once been a vital mining outpost for the Krellonian Star Alliance but those rich asteroids had long since been stripped bare and relegating the system as well as its only inhabited planet to near irrelevance.

It was perhaps for that reason that the central government had not mounted a larger effort to address the spreading epidemic that had broken out here, or perhaps why Yorlo had been successful in lobbying for Starfleet assistance for a planet that in the grand scheme of things was not considered particularly significant.

Tazla watched through the windows of the runabout cockpit as a team of Starfleet engineers, led by Lieutenant Hopkins, were braving the cold and blustery conditions outside and setting up the field hospital. Three modules had already been set-up; mostly living quarters for the sixty-something staff that would make this installation their home for the next few weeks, the larger modules containing the medical sections were up next.

The construction effort was proceeding on schedule, despite the inclement weather conditions, the lack of a starship in orbit to assist and the general reluctance of the local government in providing any meaningful assistance to Starfleet’s undertaking which was aimed at helping fight their battle against an epidemic threatening to spiral out of control.

Tazla understood the challenges they were up against better than most, and not just because of her background in spearheading exactly these kind of missions as Dezwin Sigus and later as Dezwin Star. If this had been merely a medical relief mission, the stakes would have been high enough already. As it stood, this was potentially much more a threat not only to this relatively isolated colony but quite possibly to the entire sector and beyond.

To make matters worse, presently Tazla was the only person who had any knowledge of this wider threat, certainly amongst her own people, now that Owens had left orbit with Eagleto assist the Agamemnon.

She wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea of keeping secrets. And not because she didn’t know how, in fact, much of her professional career had been spent gathering and containing classified information while working as part of Starfleet Intelligence. It had also led to the most disastrous decisions of not just her life but of the Star symbiont in general. It was little surprise then that she had hoped that she had left that aspect of her life far behind when she had become Eagle’sfirst officer.

She heard the Nebuchadrezzar’sairlock cycle open and turned from the windows just in time to see Katanga step inside, wrapped tightly in a thick, standard-issue, Starfleet cold-weather parker which he was quickly shedding along with the gloves.

Unexpectedly, he hardly even acknowledged her presence and instead walked right up to one of the computer stations in the cockpit and began to work the console.

“How’s it going out there?”

He nodded. “Good. Hopkins clearly knows what she’s doing. Wouldn’t have guessed that, considering she is practically still a child.”

It was true that Eagle’schief engineer had apparently been one of the youngest officers to hold that post when she had joined the ship after its commissioning, but Tazla knew she was in her early thirties now which certainly wasn’t an unusual age for an officer in her position and definitely not after the Dominion War. “Compared to the two of us, most of our colleagues are children,” she said with a smile, trying to lighten the mood.

He simply grunted an unintelligible response and refused to look up from his station.

Tazla had enough of this and stepped up closer. “Eli, we need to talk.”

“A little busy here, ma’am.”

She didn’t miss, of course, how forced he had made the honorific sound. She walked right up to him and looked over his shoulder to see what it was he was working on. Quickly coming to the conclusion that it wasn’t anything too vital, she slipped a hand onto the control panel and with two quick taps shut down the entire console, causing it to turn dark.

“What the hell?” he said angrily and looked up at her. “I was in the middle of coordinating patient relocation efforts.”

She crossed her arms in front of her. “Considering we are still at least one day away from being fully operational, I think that can wait a few minutes.”

“Every moment is crucial, you should know better than—“

“Spare me another speech about medical expediency, please. Yes, you are right, I do know. Since I helped write the book on it.”

“Dezwin did,” he said and stepped away in search of another console no doubt.

“And all his memories are inside me.”

“His memories perhaps,” he said as he started on another console which was still operational. “Not so sure anything else made the transition.”

She followed him across the compact cockpit. “You know what, I’ve had it with this. I really have. You want to play hurt and angry, go ahead, I can take it. But as you like to keep reminding me at every opportunity lately, I am your superior officer and I am entitled to a certain level of respect from you, no matter how you feel about me personally.”

Katanga stopped in his tracks, squared his shoulders and turned to look her straight in the eyes. “You are of course quite correct, Commander. So let us pause our time critical efforts to save an entire world from a deadly epidemic and instead discuss whatever it is that has you concerned about the perceived lack of respect you have been receiving as of late.”

Tazla uttered a heavy sigh. Had he been any other man, as in, had he not been a dear and long-time friend of hers, as well as quite possibly one of the most experienced and gifted physicians in all of Starfleet, and had he not been the most critical piece to the puzzle of solving their current crisis, she would have wasted no time at all to relieve him of his duties, at least until he had cooled off a little.

And, of course, Katanga knew this as well. Knew precisely that she had no choice but to put up with him.

Yet she was not determined to give in so easily. “First of all, I want to discuss your reckless behavior in the hospital yesterday. That was entirely unacceptable and I will not tolerate this behavior from one of my officers, no matter the results.”

“Noted.”

She regarded him with a suspicious look. “Is that all you have to say?”

“What else is there? The only reason we are here now is because of my so-called reckless behavior. And considering that you’re clearly not interested in any kind of justification for it, such as the fact that I was never in any kind of danger, I guess we’d better leave it at that.”

That threw her for a loop a bit. “What do you mean?”

"We already knew that this disease was only affecting Krellonians on a planet which is populated by at least five different species, none of which, according to medical reports have shown any kind of symptoms. After that, it didn't take me long to determine from the medical charts in the hospital that this virus is targeting a specific RNA strand within the Krellonian genetic makeup."

“A strand which is missing in human RNA,” she said.

“Precisely. As well as in Trill RNA and those found in other Federation races.”

"And you came to this conclusion after spending just five minutes examining a Krellonian patient? I've been a physician, Eli. I know it has been some time since I practiced medicine, but even I know that that is not nearly enough time to form a valid, scientific hypothesis. Certainly not if you are planning to stake your life on it."

“I took a calculated risk based on the information available to me at the time. Even Commander Xylion would agree that it was a logical decision considering that we were about to be kicked out for good.”

She shook her head, seriously doubting that the Vulcan science officer would have come down on his side of things on that one. “You don’t know that. In fact, after what you did, Chella was more than willing to double down on her decision.”

“I changed her mind though, didn’t I?”

“Maybe you did. But I don’t see how your actions of exposing yourself helped.”

“They started the conversation, I thought that much was obvious. Now do you want to continue to discuss the wider implications of what I have done or can I go back to work and making sure that none of it will have been in vain?”

Tazla worked hard to keep her anger in check but wasn’t quite sure how well that was going. “Next time, you will consult with me before you even think of doing something like that again. Do I make myself clear, Doctor?”

"As crystal, Commander," he said and then promptly left the cockpit, apparently having decided that he could get his work done much easier and without the threat of further interruptions in the runabout's back compartment.

Tazla began to massage her temples to try and stave off an impending headache. Her tenure on Eaglehad been difficult from day one, having brought with her a reputation practically burned to a crisp and trying to replace a highly respected first officer who had given his life to save his crewmembers. She had encountered nothing but mistrust from not only the people under her command but also from her own captain.

She had unexpectedly found a friend and ally when Elijah Katanga had joined the ship and things had steadily improved for her since then. Eventually, that trust which had long eluded the crew and the captain had started to come into play. Then the war had ended and things had looked bright for the first time in a long time for Tazla Star.

Good things, she had long since learned, were never meant to last.
Part Three: A House Divided - 2 by CeJay
2


He had never visited Piqus before but just being back in Krellon space, just a few weeks after he had reluctantly spent some of his leave time on the homeworld and after nearly a decade in voluntary exile away from his people, this return to the Star Alliance was making him feel incredibly uncomfortable.

It had been bad enough that Yorlo had pulled strings to get Eagleredirected to Piqus, forcing him and his crew to delay their greatly anticipated exploratory mission, worse even, Yorlo had wanted him specifically, trying to rope him into what clearly amounted to some sort of personal vendetta against his estranged wife.

And after he had resolutely made the decision not get involved in any of his uncle’s schemes, the captain and the first officer had apparently decided that he should still remain behind on Piqus VII with the medical teams while Eaglewas heading off to assist Agamemnon.

Star hadn't even given him a choice in the matter even though he had pointed out that as a pilot and navigator, his expertise was clearly not required for this mission and in fact would have been of greater use to Eagleon her mission. Star had countered that his value came not from his limited medical expertise but that it was his knowledge of his own people that made him integral to the away mission.

He supposed it made a certain amount of sense to have a Krellonian take part in a mission to a Krellonian colony—no matter how much he’d rather have been a million light-years away from this place—he couldn’t help suspect that more was going on here, after both Owens and Star had asked him detailed questions about his meeting with his uncle.

He didn’t care.

Intellectually, he knew that this attitude was not exactly befitting a Starfleet officer, not to mention one with command aspirations which were slowly gaining traction thanks to his recent promotion to full lieutenant. But there had been a perfectly valid reason why he had left his home all those years ago to seek a future within the Federation. He had made a conscious decision a long time ago to leave his home, and as far as he was concerned, it was not fair that he was being asked to come back to the one place he had tried so hard to get away from.

Lif had always considered himself a good Starfleet officer. He excelled at his job. Except for a few exceptions, he had always followed his orders the way he was supposed to, and he had put his life on the line to protect others, had even been formally recognized for his deeds. So then why could he not be allowed to have at least one weakness? One matter where he could decide not to get involved, at least not voluntarily? He knew that his uncooperative manner had likely already been noted by his superiors but then surely he was not the only officer on the ship who was not always behaving the way everyone else expected him to.

It was clear that Doctor Katanga had been in a terribly poor mood as of late and that his scorn was mostly directed at Tazla Star. He had even disregarded, if not orders than certainly protocol when he had decided to expose himself to a potentially deadly virus while on the away mission to the local hospital.

DeMara Deen, usually the very model of buoyancy and optimism had not been her usual self as of late either and it wasn’t easy to tell that her relationship with the captain seemed to have suffered as a result.

And Leva and Lieutenant Alendra were having some sort of fall out as well after having developed a very close working relationship ever since the tactical officer had returned from his last assignment and bringing the young Bolian officer with him.

People had personal issues from time to time, so why, he wondered, was it so surprising to others when he exhibited some as well?

In short, Lif was in a terrible mood and it certainly hadn’t helped that the sonic shower in the tiny living compartment he was staying in on the runabout hadn’t worked right since Eaglehad left. An invigorating shower had always had a soothing effect on him.

“Alright, good. Now give me section four-baker right on these coordinates. Lif, do you have the junction segments ready?”

He glanced over to Louise Hopkins who was clad, like he was, in a red and white Starfleet issue environmental suit. While they had not yet taken on any infected patients, and even though Katanga may have been rather cavalier about his own safety, he had issued strict orders to the rest of the team to wear the suits until further notice and once he had been able to rule out any airborne or environmental factors which may have contributed to what had been come to be called the Piqus Plague. Lif didn’t mind wearing the suits since besides keeping them safe from any potential pathogens, it also kept out the cold thanks to its internal heating systems.

“Lif?” Hopkins said again, shooting him a look.

He nodded and then quickly entered a few commands into the large padd he was holding, a specialized model which was easier to use while wearing an environmental suit. Part of his job helping to construct the facility had been to ensure all the junction pieces which connected the various outer wall sections were in place and fully secured. Contemplating his misery of being on this Krellon colony had distracted him from this task.

Trying to draw away from his momentary lapse, he managed to find the right location for the next junction piece using the built-in scanner in the padd. "Got it. Coming now," he said and entered the right sequence.

Moments later, the transporter operator working in one of the shuttles, locked in on his coordinates and then beamed into place the junction piece from one of the many storage containers which had been brought down from Eaglebefore she had left orbit.

Hopkins looked over the five-meter tall strut which had materialized at the end of the already present wall section. Instead of solely relying on her tricorder, she grabbed hold of the strut with one gloved hand and ensured it was solidly in place by giving it a few hard yanks. Then she nodded. “Looks good. Adeline, let’s add the next wall section, please.”

“Energizing now, Lieutenant,”the transporter operator responded via the comm channel.

Lif watched as a huge piece of curved, metallic wall shimmered into existence, connecting to the rest of the slowly growing structure via the junction rod. The latest piece made up almost half of the entire western wall of the facility and what would very soon be the main patient ward. A large elliptical window made out of reinforced transparent aluminum sat at the center of the section.

Only now that the window section focused on a specific part of the old quarry that had become their temporary home, did Culsten notice the arrangements of tatty and decidedly non-Starfleet issue tents and the people mingling among them. They were at least five hundred meters away from the Starfleet installation, their shuttles and cargo containers, on the other side of a ravine which bisected the quarry floor and at this distance it wasn’t easy making out details with the naked eye, but he was sure that the group was made out of very different types of people. Different races altogether, judging by the varying body shapes and sizes.

He took a few steps closer to the window to get a better look.

Louise joined him there. “They arrived here this morning. No clue how they found out about us. They must be desperate for a cure.”

But Lif shook his head within his helmet. “I don’t think that’s why they’re here.”

DeMara Deen had joined the other two. “What makes you say that?”

“From what I’ve been told only Krellonians have been infected with the Piqus Plague. Those are all Outlanders.”

“Outlanders?” Deen asked.

Hopkins answered that question. “Inhabitants from the outlying worlds around the central Krellon worlds. They were mostly conquered over the last few centuries and turned into slave labor. They used to be subject races not unlike those kept by the Romulans or Son’a.”

Lif knew that Hopkins had learned about the Outlanders during their recent shore leave to the homeworld. The matter was much more complicated than she had made it sound but he didn't feel the need to elaborate on her point.

“Charming,” Deen said. “But if they are not infected, what are they doing here?”

“Outlanders are not treated very well in Krellonian society and they tend to be of a poorer social-economic background. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve come here looking for hand-outs,” said Hopkins. “I feel sorry for them. We should try and help them.”

Deen turned to look at the chief engineer. “That’s not our mission. If we start helping these people where does it stop? Besides those people’s status is a purely internal Krellonina matter.”
Lif didn’t miss the surprised look Louise was throwing the Tenarian. She did sound uncharacteristically detached and unemotional. She did, of course, have a point.

Without saying another word, the three of them went back to work.

But not long after they had fully completed the main sections of the hospital and the facility was truly beginning to resemble an actual structure, even if not the most aesthetically pleasing one, their attentions were once again directed towards the small settlement of Outlanders at the edge of the quarry.

More specifically it was the two large ground vehicles which came rumbling down the access road with loud, blaring sirens, which brought most of the work to a standstill as the Starfleet crew turned towards the commotion.

“That’s just what we needed,” said Hopkins. “ Local authorities.”

Indeed, the vehicles quickly surrounded the tent settlement, causing a great uproar among the group, many tried to scatter away from the uniformed Krellonians streaming out of the transports.

The peace officers were all armed with what looked like batons of sorts and wore isolation suits. They were also efficient and violent in quickly subduing most of the Outlanders, not hesitating at all to use their batons on anyone who was not immediately surrendering.

"This is going to get out of control," Louise said, mostly mumbling to herself as she and the others watched on from a distance.

Lif, of course, was well aware of the methods of local police against unauthorized Outlander activities and hardly surprised at what he saw. It was a sight he had hoped never having to see again.

Hopkins was not content with simply watching on and quickly found Nora Laas who had emerged from one of the shuttles with four armed officers. “Laas,” she said and indicated towards the scene. “We have to do something.”

But the Bajoran security chief simply walked over to her slowly, with her armed contingent following closely. Upon closer inspection Lif realized that the team following her were not standard Starfleet security personnel but members of the Niners, the Special Missions Team unit Eaglehad recently taken onboard. These men and women, from various different species, hardly looked anything like one expected from Fleet personnel. Some wore long, shaggy bears, they wore outfits which barely registered as a uniform, their weapons appeared to have been heavily modified and some of them, like the hulking Nausicaan or the green-skinned Orion, didn’t hail from races one excepted to encounter commonly in Starfleet.

All four of them, as well as Nora, kept their eyes appraisingly on the commotion at the far side of the quarry even as they made their way over to Hopkins and the rest of the team.

“We can’t just let them beat up on people like that,” Louise continued when Nora had come closer.

“Commander Star’s orders were pretty specific on this. We cannot get involved with local matters. We’re just here to secure the facility. That’s it.”

“Yeah, we’re just the babysitters,” said the Boslic woman with the bright violet hair in a noticeably tedious sounding tone of voice. She seemed entirely indifferent to the brief glower the comment earned her from Nora.

Hopkins looked back at the Bajoran, shaking her head. “That isn’t right.”

“It’s the Prime Directive,” Deen said simply and then walked away to return to working on the facility. A moment later most of the others followed her lead, leaving the Outlanders to their fate.

Lif saw that Hopkins was less willing to let things go as quickly and he thought he understood why. Louise was a gentle soul but as an engineer who had always placed her work before most everything else, she had also always been one of the most sheltered members of Eagle’ssenior crew, barely taking part in away missions or getting otherwise involved in matters not related to her engines or technical systems.

Since they had begun their romantic relationship, he had learned that there was a lot more to her than her brilliant but technically-focused mind and that she cared deeply for other people. It was what he had loved about her but also what had started to create a rift between them after she had accused him of turning his back on his people and their social ills which had been so evidently displayed during their visit to the homeworld. The very same which were once again being aptly demonstrated just a few hundred meters away.

“I’m sorry, Lou,” Nora said. “But Dee’s right. This isn’t our concern.”

"I see. We come here to help these people from succumbing to a deadly plague but if they decide to kill each other we are just supposed to stand back and watch on. Is that it?"

There clearly was nothing else Nora knew to say about this.

Lif placed a hand gently on Louise’s upper arm. “Come on, Lou, we still got lots of work to do.”

But she resisted him. At least for a moment, and instead regarded him with a particularly dark look, almost as if to say that all this was his fault. That if he had wanted to, he could have made a difference in the way his own people behaved.

Lif had already had this argument with her and was not interested in rehashing it. Especially not here. The notion that he could change the philosophy of an entire people remained absurd to him.

Hopkins' stand didn't last long and her need to follow her own orders and accomplish what she had been asked to do ultimately won out over her sympathies for an unknown group of people. In a last sign of protests, she did free her arm from his hand, whirled around and walked away from him to continue their task.

Lif exchanged a brief glance with Nora but she had nothing further to add and so he too went back to work.



* * *




The security chief watched the team of ten technicians and engineers, including Deen and Culsten as they huddled together to discuss their next steps in putting together the facility before she directed her attention towards Sensabaugh or Sensy as his Niners liked to call him.

The tall, muscular, bald-headed and full-bearded human considered her with calm and appraising eyes.

“Alright, we might not be able to get involved with what’s going on over there but I still want us to show some force and our general displeasure at what is happening.”

“One way of doing that,” said Petty Officer Toycel, or Junior as the large, but relatively young Orion was better known as, “is to walk over there and tell those people to take a hike or else. They are not going to want to mess with us, I guarantee you that.”

But Laas shook her head. “We’re not going to provoke them that blatantly,” she said and looked back at the squad leader. “Get your people to form a perimeter around the facility, facing the east side, make sure they do get a good look at you and your weapons.”

“That ain’t gonna do much,” said Violet, the Boslic woman. “We just stand around here we don’t look all that intimidating.”

“Maybe not you,” said Grunt, the Nausicaan who tended to say very little as far as Nora could tell. Of course, then again the Niners had kept pretty much to themselves and didn’t mingle with the rest of the crew. For all she knew, Grunt didn’t stop talking when he was with his own team.

“I’ll get some more members of my security team to join you,” said Laas.

“Oh, sure, Fleet security. That’ll make all the difference,” said Violet in a particularly dismissive tone.

Sensy cut off any further discussion on the subject. “Alright, folks, cut the chatter and get into position. No provocative actions. Just make sure they feel like they’re being watched.”

His team of three nodded as they set out to take their positions.

Sensy stayed put. “Can I a word, Lieutenant?”

Laas nodded and the two of them walked over to one of the large containers holding various medical supplies and equipment and where they were mostly out of earshot of anybody else. “Is this where you apologize for the behavior of your team?”

He shot her an incredulous look. “I thought you said that you don’t get offended easily.”

“I don’t. I suppose I’m just used to a greater amount of professionalism from the people I work with.”

“I guess it’s my turn trying not to be offended,” said Sensabaugh. “But I can guarantee you that there is nobody out there who does the things we do better. That’s the kind of professionalism we are proud of. But it comes at a prize and I think you knew that when you got us to join your merry crew.”

“Fine. I’m willing to let your people be the way they are. Just make sure you keep them away from the captain. I cannot imagine he would appreciate being talked back to in this manner.”

“I’ll make sure they are on their best behavior should the big man ever show up. In my experience though, the higher you go up that chain, the less likely you ever see them on the ground.”

“You may find that Captain Owens will surprise you on occasions,” she said, quickly coming to the defense of her commanding officer.

He shrugged. “We’ll see. But considering that he has taken Eagleout on a joy ride out of here, that doesn’t seem to be very likely anytime soon though, does it?”

“Maybe not. What is it you wanted to talk to me about?”

Sensy took a moment to take in their surroundings, the half-completed facility, the still ongoing kerfuffle between the local security forces and the Outlanders, as well as the quarry in general which thanks to its depth, shielded them somewhat from the buffeting winds which wiped across the surface of this part of Piqus VII. After a moment his eyes came to rest on her again. "All this. This mission of ours."

She considered him suspiciously. “Don’t tell me you have concerns as well? I wouldn’t think that contemplating our mission profiles is something that falls into your remit.”

“It isn’t. I don’t care what our mission on this planet is. All I’m thinking about is how to do my job. And standing around and playing sentry isn’t exactly what we do. Violet was right to be annoyed. We’re not security guards, Lieutenant. If that’s what you needed us for, you would have been better suited sticking with the Marines instead. In fact, your own security people are better suited for that task.”

"I don't know what you expected, Senior Chief," she said, referring to his rank even though it had not eluded her that his own team barely ever used ranks when they talked to each other. "But starship duties are varied. Perhaps more so than you're used to. You might be required to do some mundane tasks from time to time. But since we have you, I'd rather make you stand around and look threatening while we don't need you, so that we have you ready to go when we do. Just don't let the downtime lull you into a false sense of complacency."

The squad leader looked at her as if she had just sucker punched him. “Thankfully, I have a skin just as thick as yours, Lieutenant. Otherwise I would have taken the implication of complacency as a personal insult.”

She smirked at that. “I can dish too, Sensy.”

“I can see that,” he said and then stepped away. He changed his mind, stopped and turned to look at her again. “I understand that things are different serving on a starship. I accept that. But we are a special missions team for a reason, Lieutenant. I would kindly ask that you keep that in mind. If it turns out that our skills and expertise are not truly what you require, I don’t believe that this arrangement will be fruitful. For either one of us.”

Lass watched him rejoin his people around the facility and couldn’t help wonder if she hadn’t made a mistake in bringing him and his team on Eagle.
Part Three: A House Divided - 3 by CeJay
3

Michael Owens wasn't exactly a stranger to the incessant sensation of nervous anxiety. He doubted there were many starship captains who could claim to be immune from experiencing such feelings. He liked to think that he had perfected the way in which he hid those feelings from the people around him, after all, it was imperative that as leader of men he radiated strength and confidence to his crew even if he didn't always feel that way. As far as he was concerned, when he sat in that chair, at the center of the bridge, anyone who happened to glance upon him needed to know that this was a man who knew exactly what he was doing and had the certitude to know how to do it.

It had been the same with the people who had come before him. Back when he had been a lowly ensign on his first assignment, the Fearless, he had looked at his captain and had known, almost instinctively, that he was the unquestioned leader and the very epitome of her ship’s name. And again when he had served on the Columbiaunder Captain Mendez, he had never once doubted that the man in the center chair possesses the supreme confidence to guide his people through any storm. He had drawn strength from those people and he was determined to follow their example now that he was the man in that chair.

It wasn’t always easy to play that role. Not when he had to make choices such as leaving a large part of his crew to fend for themselves on a colony belonging to a people, if not outright hostile to the Federation, at least not exactly friendly either.

It was also difficult not to draw parallels to the last time Eaglehad left an away team on a planet to answer a distress signal. Just a few months earlier the roles had been reserved when Michael had stayed behind on a war-torn world with a small team while Tazla Star had taken Eagleto assist a fellow starship.

The mission had ultimately been successful but at a high price and Michael still wondered if he could have avoided casualties if he had given different orders, perhaps even decided against sending Eagleaway.

And yet he had done the exact same thing again, hadn’t really seen another choice at the time.

Even worse, the stakes felt personal this time, with Amaya needing his help after the cryptic distress signal she had sent, indicating that she was in serious trouble for which all help could already be coming too late.

“Lieutenant Stanmore,” he said, addressing the operations officer at his forward station. With half his senior officers back on Piqus, he had to rely on the beta-shift relief personnel to step up. He was confident in their abilities, from Stanmore at ops, to young Ensign Srena at the helm and veteran science officer Xylion as his first officer, a role he was quite familiar with since he had filled that position on a temporary basis previously. Steadfast tactical officer So’Dan Leva was the only senior officer left on the ship who was not acting up in some sort of capacity. “Distance to the Agamemnon?”

“We are one hour and thirty minutes out from her last known position,” the blonde-haired officers said.

“Mister Leva, anything on long-range sensors?”

"No, sir. But the high levels of particle radiation within the Amargosa Diaspora are severely limiting the range and effectiveness of the long-range array," the half-Romulan said.

Michael nodded. He had of course known this already but it had not stopped him from asking the question. He needed to know Agamemnon’sstatus. “Ensign, increase our speed to warp nine point six.”

“Aye, sir, increasing speed.”

He was almost relieved that chief engineer Hopkins wasn’t onboard. She would have likely noted some sort of concerns over pushing their still new and untested engines this far. Then again, her absence also meant that they were missing their most experienced warp field specialist in case something were to go wrong with the engine. It was one of the reasons he had waited until now to put the pedal all the way down to meet the metal. The last thing he needed was to be stranded in the middle of nowhere, useless to both Agamemnonand his team left behind on Piqus.

“New ETA: Twenty-five minutes,” said Stanmore.

“Yellow alert. Raise shields. Weapons on stand-by. I want all sensors locked in on Agamemnon’slast known at maximum resolution.”

The orders were quickly acknowledged by his efficient bridge crew and he thought he could feel the deck plates beginning to tremble underneath his boots. The new warp core was being asked to pump out more raw power than it had ever done before, energizing not just their high-velocity approach, but also the shield grid, the sensors and feeding enough power into the phasers and torpedo systems to make them operational at a moment's notice. It was a lot of strain; he knew, but what better way to test a brand-new engine than by putting it through its paces?

“Mister Leva, once we drop out of warp, I want to be able to deploy the transphasic shields quickly. Depending on the situation, we might need to extend them around Agamemnonas well.”

“Understood, sir,” he said. “As you know the transphasic shield requires a significant amount of energy. We will not be able to engage warp drive while it is deployed and our weapons will be limited.”

Michael stood from his chair and tugged at the bottom of his uniform jacket. “It’s a sacrifice we may need to make if we are forced to play defense before we can go on the offensive,” he said and looked at his acting XO next. “What is the status of sickbay if we need to take on wounded?”

"The majority of our medical staff has remained on Piqus VII. However, Doctor Nelson has prepared sickbay to receive casualties. In addition, all crewmembers with basic medical training are standing by to assist if required."

“Sir, I’ve got her,” said Stanmore which immediately caused Michael to turn back around and towards the view screen which at present only showed a streaking field of stars.

Anticipating his next order, the operations officer tapped away at his console and the screen shifted to show the catamaran-shaped Akira-class starship.

Michael took a step closer to the screen, focusing on keeping his composure in front of the crew but also prepared to expect the worst. From the current angle, he could not immediately determine what was the matter with the other ship. "Magnify, please."
The image quickly zoomed in twice and until she filled the entire screen. Agamemnon’sdark gray hull gleamed under the lights of the many nearby stars and looked as flawless as if she had just rolled out of the shipyard. Of course, appearances could be deceiving. "Status report."

Xylion took that one. “All power levels on the Agamemnonare within standard operating parameters. Sensors are detecting a full crew complement. Deflector shields and weapon systems are powered down,” he said and then looked up from the console he was working on. “Sir, I can detect no apparent sign of distress.”

Michael took another step towards the floor-to-ceiling view screen, carefully studying the other ship. He had been in Starfleet long enough to know that starships could be in distress for many different reasons, some of which were not always immediately apparent. “Ensign, drop us out of warp here. Let’s keep our shields up. We’re staying at yellow alert until we know more.”

“Dropping out of warp,” the Andorian helmsman said and not a moment later she had the ship back to sub-light, judging from the way the deck plates shifted as the inertia dampeners exerted their forces to keep them all in one piece during the sudden transition.

“Mister Xylion, begin a full sensor sweep of the area. I want to know of any possible threats within half a light-year from our position.”

The Vulcan headed towards the back of the bridge to take his more familiar position at the science station to give the task his full attention.

“Sir, we are being hailed,” said Leva.

Michael felt the need to brace himself yet again before he spoke. “On screen, Commander.”

Amaya Donners face appeared larger than life projected on the viewer just a few meters in front of him. “Michael, glad you could make it here so quickly.”

He considered her for a moment and judged her to be in good health and positive spirit judging by the subtle smile on her lips. “We answered your distress signal,” he said, even if that much seemed obvious.

“I understand.”

“What is the nature of your distress?” he said slowly, his relief of seeing her well and unharmed slowly beginning to abate.

She took a moment to answer the question, clearly picking up on his growing suspicion. “To tell you the truth,”she said. “It’s not so much that we are in distress than that we require your assistance. I apologize for the ruse but it was the only way I could make sure to get you out here without giving away the nature of our mission.”

“You misused a distress signal,” he said. It wasn’t a question and he couldn’t quite keep his voice free from accusation. He had never heard of a Starfleet vessel using a distress signal under false pretenses. In fact, he was pretty sure that there were regulations pertaining to this very thing.

"If you want to get technical about it, then yes, I guess I did. But I had a good reason. Let me come aboard and explain why you are here,"she said, her tone having cooled noticeably.

He nodded after a moment. "Very well. We should be in transporter range shortly. I'll see you then. Eagleout.”

Her image disappeared from the screen to be once more replaced by that of her vessel.

Michael turned away from the screen to regard his officers. “Stand down from yellow alert and drop shields. Ensign, bring us into transporter range.”

Once again orders were quickly acknowledged and followed.

Xylion stood from his station and headed back towards the command area of the bridge to join with the captain. “Initial sensor sweeps have not detected any vessels or anomalies within range. I have initiated a more thorough scan of the area but the full result will not be available until the scan is complete in approximately twelve minutes.”

“Thank you, Commander.”

Xylion still had more to say since he held his ground. “Captain, protocol would demand that we formally log Captain Donners’ misuse of a priority one distress signal.”

“Let’s hold off on this until we’ve heard what she has to say. If need be I will mention it in my log,” he said which seemed to satisfy Xylion. Michael hoped she had a damned good reason for what she had done. The idea that he had left Star and a large away team behind on Piqus for what had turned out to be a fake distress call vexed him a great deal.

Once again, and as he had done so often before, he did what he needed to do to ensure his emotions were not playing out on his face and give his crew any indication at the thoughts hidden beneath the veneer.

Presently, none of them were positive.
Part Three: A House Divided - 4 by CeJay
4


He had to admit that he was quite pleased with the work his team, as well as the engineers under Lieutenant Hopkins' competent supervision, had accomplished in very little time.

The facility was mostly operational just twelve hours after the first foundation piece had been laid down even without the assistance of Eaglein orbit.

Some work still remained, not all isolation wards were fully functional yet and crew quarters had been de-prioritized in favor of more essential medical facilities on Elijah's instructions, meaning that for now sleeping arrangements had been mostly relegated to the shuttles, the runabout, and tents, making it an adequate albeit uncomfortable fit for most of the away team.

Naturally, for Elijah, a bit of discomfort when dealing with a crisis was nothing new, or of course, was a rapid medical deployment under difficult circumstances. He knew that Eagle’screw lacked some of his significant experience and yet he had to admit that they had performed admirably when setting up the hospital to his specifications.

Administrator Chella who had remained highly skeptical of Starfleet’s efforts on her world, hadn’t changed her tune much since they had first met her less than a day earlier and it was mostly thanks to her chief physician, Doctor Urnea Turee, who was clearly much more attuned to the value Elijah and his people could bring to the table in their fight against this plague, that the field hospital received their first patients even before the facility was fully up and running.

Elijah estimated that the facility would reach full capacity by the end of the day, considering the pace at which new patients were being admitted, which perhaps didn’t so much speak to the trust the locals were beginning to place in him and his team, but rather the desperation they felt and the urgent requirement for more space to house the increasing number of people affected by the Piqus Plague.

He had thrown himself into work, taking blood and tissue samples, cataloging data and carrying out research even while the proverbial hammers were still banging away all around him, but he had long since learned to filter out the noise.

Along with his team of doctors and researcher, he had already made some early progress by the time Chella unexpectedly arrived at the facility, asking for a full inspection.

Naturally, he wasn’t exactly enthused about the idea of having to stop work while showing her and Doctor Turee around, he at least understood that they would require her further cooperation if they wanted any chance at making real progress.

As such he had agreed to personally tour the installation with both of them. And while he was convinced that what they had built here, in pretty much record time, was still superior even to the medical facilities he had seen in the nearby capital city, Chella remained unimpressed. Even when he pointed out the triply reinforced force fields to maintain quarantine protocols, the various airlocks between each section to provide an extra layer of isolation, the state-of-the-art research labs in which his people were working tirelessly to analyze samples with the assistance of a computer core with enough processing power to control a starship, and the much more organized observation wards, one for patients of each stage of the disease.

It was mostly Turee who nodded and asked questions as Elijah led them through the hospital and who showed some appreciation for what the Starfleet team had been able to accomplish in a very short time frame.

Elijah, still the only non-patient in the facility without an isolation suit, had purposefully left the best part for last as he guided his two visitors along with Tazla Star to a set of observation windows which looked into yet another patient ward.

Differently to the ones they had already visited and which had contained Krellonians of various degrees of deteriorating health, the five patients in this ward looked fairly healthy, sitting up on their beds, some even standing, and talking to each other.

“A control group of some sort?” Turee asked as he carefully studied the two women and three men inside the room.

“Good guess,” said Katanga with a smirk. “But no.”

“So then what am I looking at here, Doctor?” Chella asked with much less patience. “Are you telling me that you are keeping healthy Krellonians confined in this facility for no good reason?”

He shook his head. “Oh there is a very good reason for these people to be here, I assure you. You see, up until last night, four of these patients had been diagnosed as early stage one. Berina over there,” he said and pointed at the young woman now laughing with another patient, “was closer to stage two.”

That left both the Krellonian doctor and the chief administrator speechless for a moment.

Elijah took the opportunity to explain further. “It is too early to say for sure if the remission is permanent but the signs so far are encouraging. At least for these patients. Unfortunately, we have seen no improvement in a dozen others who were subjected to the same treatment. But it is a start.”

Turee turned to Katanga. “What kind of treatment?”

His smile widened a bit. "Well, Administrator, you were quite right to point out that Krellonian physiology is rather unique and that it was unlikely that we had come across a similar physiology or genetic makeup in other races within or without the Federation. However, we did find a surprisingly similar DNA match in our database. It belongs to a non-sapient insectoid species which developed on Archer VII over the last few million years. There aren't many obvious physical similarities between that species and Krellonians but genetically the differences are minuscule. We were able to replicate certain nucleotides based on that species’ DNA which have proven to be resistant to the active retrovirus which spreads the infection.”

“Are you telling me that you’ve taken some insect DNA to alter the genetic makeup of Krellonians?” Chella said, sound anything but pleased. Even Star looked at Elijah with obvious concern at the implications.

He quickly shook his head. "We have not altered the genetic makeup of these patients. That would be immoral and highly illegal within the Federation. Instead, we used the replicated nucleotides to create a vaccine to help fortify the infected cells against the virus."

“I still don’t like it,” said Chella. “The notion that you used some primitive life form’s genetic material for a vaccine for Krellonians doesn’t sound right to me.”

“A great many of those so-called primitive life forms are very close genetic matches to higher, sapient races like ourselves,” said Tazla Star who had kept mostly quiet while Elijah had shown them around the facility. “On Trill, for example, a species of small and furry anthropoid primates share nearly ninety-nine percent of our DNA. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same was not also true for some sort of animal on your homeworld which nowadays probably shares very few if any physical resemblances to Krellonians.”

Turee nodded in agreement but Chella seemed to have a more difficult time accepting this. “I don’t like it,” she said again. “But if there is a chance that this will slow down or even stop this epidemic, I suppose I’m willing to give this a try. I expect to receive regular updates on your progress, Doctor.”

“Of course,” Elijah said quickly.

“Administrator,” Star began. “Before you leave here, I was wondering if we could talk about another visit to the city. I think we should take this opportunity to learn more about each other’s people. This could be a great first step to demonstrate to our respective governments what we can accomplish if we join forces and cooperate.”

Elijah had to give Star credit for the attempt of trying to improve relations with the notoriously xenophobic Krellonians but he had to wonder if this really was the best time to push for interstellar relations. He would have preferred if she kept her focus on trying to cure this disease instead of making diplomatic inroads.

Considering his strained relationship with her at present, he decided to keep those thoughts to himself for now.

"I've already made it clear that any further visits to the city or any other population centers are out of the question. You are here for one purpose and one purpose alone, Commander. I have no interest in learning more about your people and to be quite frank, I'm already unhappy about the extra strain on our resources in order to provide security for your facility."

Star got the hint that she was not going to make progress with her current approach and quickly shifted gears. “I understand. Of course, if we are a strain on your security resources, I’m more than happy for you to redeploy your security teams elsewhere. I am certain our own security is more than adequate to handle the occasional group of Outlanders drifting by.”

“The fact that you have even brought armed personnel onto Piqus soil is still a thorn in my side, Commander,” she said bluntly. “And I certainly will not keep you here unsupervised. Besides, you are dangerously underestimating what the Outlanders are capable of. They may give the appearance of being hapless and disorganized but don’t let that fool you. It’s the Outlanders who have brought this plague upon us.”

Seeing that the Trill first officer could not win with the administrator, no matter what tact she was employing, Elijah decided to speak up. “It would be incredibly beneficial for our efforts to learn exactly how they have accomplished this,” he said. “Any evidence you could provide on how the virus has been dispersed would be helpful.”

“We are still working on collecting the evidence,” offered Turee. “But since we are yet to fully understand how this virus operates, we are not really in a position to determine how it was weaponized in the first place.”

Chella aimed her dark eyes at the Federation doctor. “I expect you to come up with some valid theories, Doctor. You have made a strong case for your presence here and I will not be satisfied until you can show me results.” She pointed at the recovery ward beyond the observation window. “That is not a bad start, but you will need to show me much more than a few people walking around because of some insect serum you concocted before I am willing to consider tolerating your continued presence on my planet,” she added before she turned on her heel and headed for the nearest exit.

Turee stayed just a moment longer as if to silently disagree with his superior before he followed her to the exit.

Star looked at Elijah. “Not easy to impress her, is she?”

“We are not here to impress her. We are here to find a cure.”
Part Three: A House Divided - 5 by CeJay
5

Since it had already been proven that Krellonians were highly susceptible to the Piqus Plague, and to further minimize any chances of accidental exposure, Doctor Katanga—who had more than once voiced his displeasure to Commander Star for including Lif on this mission in the first place—had instructed that he stayed on the runabout instead of joining the rest of the team in the living quarters of the recently completed medical facility.

Louise Hopkins had agreed to keep him company at nights—albeit in different bunks, since their relationship which had started of well after a long friendship a few months earlier, had encountered some troubles in recent weeks and after their shore leave to the Krellon homeworld.

Hopkins had accused him of turning his back on the plight of his people, or more precisely, that of the Outlanders, by running away from his home and refusing to involve himself in anything that could potentially improve the conditions in the Star Alliance while Lif was angry at her for judging him based purely on a single visit to his home, even if it had been an eventful one, and accusing her of applying her Federation morality indiscriminately, without fully appreciating the issue or, in fact, his own, personal history with the problems his people were still facing.

They had made small strides in trying to overcome this rift that had opened between them, even if they had put their romantic endeavors on pause for now.

For this particular mission, the highly modular design of the runabout had been configured primarily for medical purposes with only a small number of very compact crew cabins. But Hopkins had found a little bit of space in the aft section where she had placed a tri-dimensional chest set on a crate, with two more containers functioning as improvised seats.

He knew that chess had always been one of her favorite pastimes, perhaps because the logical aspect of it appealed to her, and she had eventually managed to get him hooked on the game as well.

“That sonic shower is still on the fritz. Any chance you can work your magic on it?” he said while she sat cross-legged on the crate opposite his, studying the multi-layered boards to consider her next move.

“I’ll try to look at it in the morning,” she said, without taking her eyes off the set. “I can’t make any promises though. As far as priorities are concerned, creature comforts are not on the top of our list.”

“It’s on top of mine,” said Lif who was leaning back against the bulkhead behind him, his arms folded in front of his chest.

She shot him a brief look, smirking. “I’m sure it is. But Doctor Katanga doesn’t see it that way. He’s thinking about finding a cure for this virus pretty much twenty-four seven,” she said and then refocused on the board.

“The man is a medical genius. He’s been doing this kind of thing longer than the two of us have been alive. If there is somebody I trust in finding a cure, it’s him.”

Hopkins moved her black rook to the second board from the top and captured one of his white knights in the process, taking it off the board. “Did you give any more thoughts to meeting with your aunt?”

He shook his head. “I couldn’t even if I wanted to. Administrator Chella has made it quite clear that we are not welcomed in the city.”

“Starfleet isn’t,” she said. “I’m not sure if she could keep you from going if you went as a fellow Krellonian civilian. Besides, from what you’ve told me about your meeting with your uncle, I’m sure he’d be more than happy to pull the necessary strings.”

“Perhaps,” he said without making eye contact.

“Your move.”

He glanced back at the chess set, found his bishop on the lowest pane and captured a black pawn on the board immediately above.

“So then there’s probably nothing stopping you from going to see her,” she said, looking right through the three-dimensional chessboards. “If you wanted to go, that is.”

“I still don’t.”

She nodded. “Yeah, I’m getting that,” she said and moved on his queen.

“I don’t really get it, you know.”

Hopkins looked up again. “You don’t get what?”

"Why this is all such a big deal with everyone. For the first couple of years I've known So'Dan, the merest mention of his Romulan roots would have put me at serious risk of getting my head chewed off. Laas practically never talks about Bajor either and I don't think she has been back there since she left as a child. But when it comes to me, and I show any kind of reluctance to deal with my people, I'm considered out-of-line and uncooperative."

She shrugged. “Maybe its because you haven’t earned the same reverence yet.”

He moved another pawn to take a pawn. “I’m a full lieutenant now, same as Laas. I should get the same respect extended to me.”

She shot him a disbelieving look. “You want to be compared to Laas? Are you serious? She’s the head of security, you’re the helmsman. She started fighting the Cardassians on her homeworld when she was a preteen. She escaped that world almost single-handedly while she was an adolescent and she distinguished herself over and over again as a Marine and later as a Starfleet Security officer.”

“I’ve achieved things too.”

“I’m not denying that,” she said and took his pawn he had just used.

“And you can barely be objective on the matter.”

That garnered him another glare. “Why, because Laas and I are friends? I am friends with you too, last I checked. Maybe even a bit more than that.”

He just grumbled at that unintelligibly.

“And you know what else separates you from Laas and So’Dan? They don’t spend their time pouting about the unfairness of the universe, especially not when their input could be critical to the success of a mission.”

"What success could I possibly contribute to?" he said. "I'm no medic. There is no point of me being here, Lou."

"What about during that incident at the border? From what I heard you were anything but helpful in trying to de-escalate that situation. Your move, by the way."

He ignored the board. “That’s not fair. Just because I’m Krellonian doesn’t mean I hold any kind of sway over any of my people.”

“Your uncle doesn’t seem to agree.”

“My uncle is a fool,” he said and moved his remaining knight to threaten the black queen.

Hopkins shook her head. “That’s not a good move, Lif.”

He glanced at her, trying to understand if she meant his play on the chessboard or something else entirely. “Too bad, it’s the one I’m making.”

She shrugged and placed her bishop within striking distance of his king, taking out his knight while doing so. She didn’t need to say it. Check.

He rolled his eyes. “I don’t even know why I still play with you. You always end up winning.”

“You’re not a bad player, Lif. If you focus on the game that is.”

His response was cut off by the shuttle’s red alert klaxons coming to life.

Hopkins jumped to her feet. “What’s going on?” she asked, clearly confused by hearing that sound while the ship was positioned firmly on the ground.

Lif was on his feet within moment also, already heading towards the cockpit at the front of the craft. “The sensors must have picked up a threat in the area.”

“What could be threatening us out here?” she said as she followed him out of the aft section.

Once in the cockpit, Hopkins quickly accessed the sensor console and quieted the alarm, leaving it to continue flashing its crimson warning lights instead. “Multiple non-Starfleet life-signs detected near the supply caches. I think we are being raided.”

Culsten was already in the process of pulling on his isolation suit and a moment later Hopkins followed his example. After a couple of minutes and once they had checked each other’s seals, they both retrieved hand phasers from the equipment locker and stepped outside.

They each needed a moment to find their footing once they had emerged from the airlock as the winds had picked up and were forcing them back towards the runabout.

Lif helped Hopkins to steady herself and as the gusts lessened a bit, they began to make their way towards the supply cache, an arrangement of a few dozen large cargo containers, some stacked up on top of each other, each at least half the size of the runabout itself and creating in essence a small container city with narrow alleyways between the bulky crates for access.

The area was not lit very well at night, in fact, the only light came from the runabout and the main facility which stood at least fifty meters away. With the sun having long since set, the container city stood in almost complete darkness.

“Maybe we should wait for reinforcements,” Hopkins said as she let her wrist beacon sweep across the now ominous looking containers.

“Right, let’s wait for the fearless, former independence fighter and Marine to take care of this. After all, a lowly helmsman won’t be able to deal with intruders,” he said, unholstered his phaser, raised his beacon and began to slowly step into the narrow alley between two rows of containers.

“You’re lucky I’m not a counselor,” she said and followed him in, with her own phaser in hand. “Otherwise, I would think you are suffering from a serious complex.”

He hushed her. “There’s somebody here,” he whispered and indicated for the junction up ahead.

She nodded as they both pressed themselves against the container and very slowly moved along the length of it until they reached the edge. Lif looked at her and mouthed the words, on three. When she nodded her understanding, he silently began to countdown.

They jumped out with their phasers at the ready on his mark, seeking to confront whatever foreign intruder had trespassed.

There was nobody there.

Too late did Lif realize that the threat was behind them and that whoever they were, they had both him and Hopkins dead to rights.

“Drop it now,” the gruff voice snarled.

They looked at each other and then dropped their phasers, realizing that they had little choice in the matter.

He ventured a glance over his shoulder only to be blinded by a bright light being shined directly into his face.

“Who told you to turn around?” asked another voice, this one distinctly female.

Lif angrily picked up his phaser again and turned around fully to face the two SMT operators who had their weapons and lights pointed at them. “You mind getting those things out of our faces? We are not the intruders here.”

Hopkins followed suit.

“Probably because they ran away from all the noise you were making back there,” said the Boslic female who had lowered her weapon but kept her light pointed at him. She stepped closer only to push herself past both of them.

Her companion, the large Orion Lif believed went by Junior, skewered them both with a disapproving glance. “Next time, wait for the professionals,” he said as he followed the Boslic.

Hopkins gave Lif a telling look. “I think that’s what I was saying.”

He dismissed her and followed the operators.

After a couple more junctions they met up with Nora Laas and Tazla Star who like the others were wearing isolation suits. Nora wasted little time to indicate towards a nearby container, giving hand-signals which Lif interpreted to mean at least four intruders inside or around that container.

Under Star’s instruction, the team split up, with her leading him and Hopkins and Nora taking the two Niners to approach the container from two angles.

Only a few meters out, Lif could see a humanoid figure huddling by the container doors which had been forced open.

“You there. Stop what you’re doing and lay face down on the ground,” Star called out to the person, raising her phaser rifle.

The intruder responded by firing his weapon at them. Lif and the others dropped onto the ground for cover and the poorly aimed shots only struck the container behind them.

A single phaser blast, coming from somewhere on the other side of the intruder, hit him square in the back and he fell down.

A commotion within the container ensued and four more figures appeared. Lif began to fire on the targets but it was difficult to make them out in the darkness and he didn’t dare use his beacon and give the intruders an easy target.

Instead, he used the ambient light created by their suits and phaser blasts. Most of their shots seemed to hit little more than the containers, as did those from the intruders.

“Cease fire,” Star ordered. “We are storing sensitive medical equipment here. We can’t risk it being damaged or destroyed.”

Lif understood that she was more concerned with the intruder's weapons fire since their own phasers were set only to light stun, meaning that they wouldn't damage solid material. The weapons of the intruders, on the other hand, were scorching and piercing the containers. Star was clearly hoping that by stopping to return fire, it would eventually cause the intruders to cease shooting as well.

Her tactic paid off. After a few more blasts clearly intended as covering fire, the intruders made a run for it. Lif could see that there had to be at least six of them, not counting the one they had already stunned.

Four managed to slip away while the two staying behind to cover their retreat didn’t get far. The first was taken down by the Boslic who—to Lif’s utter surprise—came flying down from the top of the container to rip him off his feet. She followed up with a couple of well-placed hits with a collapsible baton she was holding and the intruder was incapacitated.

The second one was easily dispatched by the Orion who despite his size had appeared out of seemingly nowhere, using the distraction caused by his fellow Niner, he had picked up the much smaller intruder and unceremoniously flung him against the wall of a nearby container where he sagged to the ground. Nora Laas stuck a phaser in his face before he could even think about standing up again.

Star stood from her crouched position she had since adopted and quickly joined the rest of the team, with Hopkins and Lif bringing up the rear.

“Seven hostiles,” said Nora as she watched the Orion secure the downed intruders with restraints. “Three neutralized, four more on the run.”

Lif looked over the intruders and noticed that all three were Outlanders, two lupine T'aq, and one humanoid Kridrip.

“Get a security team to pick these up. Let’s get the others,” said Star.

Nora nodded and called it in before she followed Star and Hopkins the same way the intruders had taken for their escape. The Boslic—her isolation suit barely even slowing her down—took the high ground by pulling herself up onto the container. Junior had already faded into the darkness somewhere.

Lif quickly caught up with the rest of his people. They reached the edge of the container town and he could see the four figures fifty meters or so ahead, trying to make it to the edge of the quarry.

They didn’t get there. Just after traversing the small, improvised bridge across the steep ravine which bisected the quarry, two armored vehicles came careening down the access road and intercepted them, cutting them off from their escape route and lightening up the area with bright floodlights. A third vehicle blocked them in when they tried to change direction.

Lif watched as local security forces clad in isolation suits streamed out of the vehicles and immediately began shooting at the Outlanders. Two went down instantly in the hail of weapon’s fire. The other two were struck as well but managed to keep on their feet, at least briefly.

"Hold your fire, hold your fire," Star shouted even as she and the others rushed towards the scene.

The commander of the security forces signaled his people to stop but they kept their weapons firmly trained on the two remaining Outlanders who were now huddled together, holding their wounds and entirely surrounded by the security forces and the Starfleet team coming up behind them.

Lif was out of breath by the time he managed to join up with Star, Nora, and Hopkins, all four of them keeping a respectful distance from the local security team.

Star was already conversing with the commander. “It’s not that we aren’t appreciative for your assistance,” she said, looking over the two intruders who had been shot. One of whom, a brown-scaled reptilian Zel, was no longer moving and a green blood-like fluid was oozing out of multiple wounds. The humanoid Kridrip was writhing in pain, also having been shot numerous times. “But I think you’ve done enough.”

The commander shook his head. “Security is our concern. If anything, you have done too much. You should not have gotten involved here.”

Nora shot the man a dark look. "Considering that they were stealing from us, surely you don't expect us to just stand around and do nothing? We already incapacitated three of their compatriots. Without having to resort to bloodshed by the way."

“You will hand over these criminals immediately,” he insisted.

“I think considering the way you have treated these people, it may be best if we hold on to the wounded for now,” said Star. “At least until their injuries have been seen to.”

But the commander frowned and resolutely shook his head. “Unacceptable. These people are dangerous criminals and must be incarcerated. A judge will determine their fate.”

Hopkins had walked over to one of the backpacks that the intruders had dropped in the commotion. She looked inside and then at Star. “All they’ve taken are medical supplies.”

The commander nodded. “Precisely. To make more biological weapons to use on our people.”

“Or maybe to treat their wounded,” said Nora. “I would imagine the local hospitals are not exactly taking any more patients with the plague epidemic what it is.”

“Let us take care of the wounded. We will hand them over to you once they have been stabilized,” said Star. “It would also be helpful to study precisely why these Outlanders are immune to the virus. That will help us find a cure.”

The commander walked over to the bleeding reptilian still on the ground “It’s too late for this one, he’s already dead,” he said as he nudged the body with the tip of his boot and elicited no reaction. He stepped up to the humanoid next. “This one is very close.”

“Then let us take—“

Star didn’t get a chance to finish her sentence as the commander raised his weapon and shot the injured Kridrip right in the head, the blast pretty much evaporating its skull.

Hopkins wasn’t able to suppress a shocked gasp at watching the execution taking place right in front of them.

Nora and Star watched on in astonishment.

“That wasn’t necessary,” Star said angrily.

“You are guests here, I suggest you keep that in mind,” he said and aimed his weapon at the two remaining Outlanders.

“Don’t do it,” Star said through gritted teeth, raising her phaser rifle.

“I would listen to the lady, brother. You take that shot and you’re the next one to drop.”

The commander looked up but was unable to see who had spoken. Lif knew the voice belonged to Junior and he was fairly certain that he must have climbed on the top of one of the armored vehicles, the bright lights hiding his bulky frame.

“You wouldn’t dare,” he said, fuming. His men now taking aim at the Starfleet team, at least those they could see.

Star seemed unperturbed by this. "You know what? You're right. I won't open fire on you and neither will any of the people you see here. But the thing you should know is that the two people you can't see, those who have their weapons aimed at your head, they're somewhat new and not used to doing things my way. Unfortunately, that also means that they may take that shot with our without my order. And, differently to me, they won't care about the consequences."

The commander looked directly into Star's eyes, trying to decide if he was going to call her bluff. Finally, he lowered his weapon and told his people to do the same. "Keep them then and treat their wounds. But don't be surprised when they stab you in the back the moment they are well enough to hold a knife."

Star nodded. “We’ll take precautions.”

“You will also allow a security team to remain in your facility.”

“Done.”

“And rest assured that I will file a formal complaint about what has happened here with the chief administrator’s office.”

Star offered him a smile even if it lacked any genuine humor. “She’ll have two of those then.”

The commander indicated to his men to board their vehicles again which they did with little delay before he followed them inside. The vehicle’s floodlights were switched off and replaced by much dimmer operational lighting and even after Lif’s eyes had readjusted, he couldn’t see any sign of the two SMT operators.

Nora had joined Star in the meantime. “I hope you know that they wouldn’t have fired without direct orders.”

"Maybe. The important thing is that he didn't know that," she said. "Now, let's get these people some medical attention. And I want a full security detail on them at all times. It also looks as if we are going to have some more guests," she added as she glanced at the vehicles which had not yet moved. "Goes without saying we need to keep an eye on them as well, considering their proclivity to shoot first and ask questions later."

Nora nodded sharply.

Hopkins had holstered her phaser again and was beginning to make her way back to the runabout. “Still think you can’t contribute to try and fix this mess?” she said under her breath as she passed Lif, not waiting for a response.

In truth, he had none to give her.
Part Three: A House Divided - 6 by CeJay
6


She had beamed onboard pretty much as soon as Eagle had entered transporter range and then had made her way up to his ready room next to the bridge without an escort, as had been her wont lately, not content to wait for Michael or one of his officers to come and collect her.

Amaya Donners had also forgone the usual pleasantries, ostensibly since they had met only a few days prior.

"We've made some real progress out here in tracking down the subspace aliens and I believe we have found a way to open a gateway into their domain, and possibly preempt any invasion attempts. However, we will need to—" She stopped herself mid-sentence after getting a good look at Michael's facial expression which he had been unable to keep from revealing his ongoing concerns. "You're still miffed about the distress signal," she said, correctly interpreting what he had been thinking.

“Wouldn’t you be? We were in the middle of a mission back on Piqus which your fake distress call interrupted.”

“I gathered from your last status update that you were not making any progress in getting access to the surface.”

“Things have moved on. We were in the process of establishing a medical facility on the planet when your signal came in.”

Amaya took one of the guest chairs in the ready room. “I didn’t know that.”

“I had to make a tough call. I left a sizable portion of my crew on Piqus, among a people who are not exactly on the best of terms with us. I did that believing that you were in trouble and needed immediate help. And now I find out all of this has been nothing more than a ruse to get Eagle out here.”

She seemed to consider her next words before she spoke. “I didn’t realize you were in that position. But it doesn’t change things. You’re here now and they’re back on Piqus. I have to believe that you wouldn’t have left them behind if you believed that they were in any real danger there.”

It hadn't been what he had wanted to hear from her. He wasn't sure what he had expected. Perhaps an apology, some sort of contrition over her actions maybe which after all were in flagrant violation of Starfleet protocol. But Amaya was playing the role of Starfleet captain to perfection, with no hint that she was not entirely confident of her own decisions. It was a role he understood well, of course, but considering that they were among equals now, considering their relationship, he had expected, or at least hoped, that she would be willing to open up to him, treat him like a real person, instead of just another officer she needed to shield her real emotions from.

She could clearly tell that he was not being swayed by her arguments and carried on. “Listen, I understand that this wasn’t ideal. I understand you are upset and I probably would be as well if I were in your position. But none of this changes the fact that I need you here,” she said, softening her voice slightly, sounding almost like the Amaya of old, the woman he had fallen in love with probably as early on as their Academy days. But that tone soon changed as she stood again. “Your mission to Piqus was a crapshoot, Michael. A long shot created by an unexpected opportunity. Jarik seems to believe the Krellonians are somehow involved with the subspace aliens but there isn’t any substantive evidence I’ve seen to support that theory.”

“The disease ravaging that world is very real.”

She offered a nod. “I’m sure it is. And I’m sure it’s tragic. I hope your people can find a way to help them and who knows, in doing so we might even be able to improve relations with the Krellonians after the centuries they’ve spent in near-isolation. But building diplomatic bridges is not why we’re out here. We’re attempting to prevent an invasion and this won’t happen by trying to play nice with the Krellonians. The invasion, we know, will start right here and we may have found a way to stop it before it can start.”

He looked up at her bright, shimmering eyes as she spoke, and couldn't quite shake the feeling that she was reading him the riot act. He was the more senior captain between the two of them, had been in rank almost a year longer than she had been, and yet here she was, taking charge and expecting him to toe the line. He had no intention of challenging her since it was obvious that she had been read into their mission in far more detail than he ever had. But her lack of deference bothered him somewhat. "Why here?"

She regarded him with a quizzical expression. “What?”

“This invasion; why will it start here? The Amargosa Diaspora is not exactly a strategically valuable sector of space. Most of it is uninhabited and almost all of it sits outside our borders. Other than an abundance of stars, there isn’t really much out here. The entire sector is a nightmare to navigate, the Krellonians don’t venture out here either and beyond Arkaria there aren’t any noteworthy Federation outposts or planets for light-years. What would make this sector so inviting to launch an invasion?”

“Perhaps it is all those factors you’ve just mentioned. As you said, there isn’t much here. That also means it is poorly defended. Besides, the argument is moot. We have already detected signs of the subspace alien’s activity. It’s why I brought you out here. We know they have their sights set on this place. We can find out their precise motivations once we have made contact.”

He nodded slowly. “Alright, so what is it you need me to do, exactly?”

“We have located highly localized concentrations of inverted tetryons in this area.”

“That shouldn’t be possible outside of subspace.”

She nodded quickly. “We believe that they have leaked into normal space and are a byproduct of spatial ruptures which have been created to allow the subspace aliens access into our space. We think we can force one of those ruptures open and allow us to enter into their domain.”

“And you need me for that?”

“I need Eagle. We have found a way to zero in on the tetryon concentrations and locate the gateway aperture of the ruptures but they are not stable. Like a wormhole, the aperture doesn’t remain fixed in a point in space. We have had some success in wrangling it but in order to do so we need two energy sources to create enough power to attract the ruptures.”

“Like two starship warp cores?”

She nodded. “Precisely. We’ve tried it with shuttles and even a runabout, but we haven’t been able to generate raw enough power that way.”

“So you just need Eagle for what? To be the bait?”

“Pretty much. Eagle can generate enough power to attract the rupture. We have been able to determine where the rupture’s aperture is likely to manifest itself once it has been attracted. Agamemnon will be waiting for it and I’ll have a team already prepared to enter the subspace fissure.”

“And then what?”

“Then we make contact with the subspace aliens, find out their exact plans and stop them if necessary.”

He couldn’t help but look skeptical. “Just like that.”

“You don’t have to worry about the details. I’ll handle that part.”

He considered that for a moment. Jarik had promised him that he wouldn’t be working the same way his father had done. He had touted transparency and openness in the way manner in which they would handle this latest threat. Amaya apparently didn’t share this same belief. Or perhaps there was another issue in play here he didn’t yet see. Perhaps it had something to do with his father’s cryptic message which had kept him up at nights as of late.

“All the same, I would like my science officer to go over your data first.”

She clearly didn’t like the sound of this. “We don’t have time for that. You said it yourself, you have an away team back on Piqus. The quicker we get this done, the quicker you can return to pick up your crew. Besides, Jarik’s instructions were quite clear. This is need-to-know only. The fewer people are aware of this, the better.”

“Are you telling me you didn’t share this information with your crew? I find it hard to believe you’ve been able to get this far without involving them.”
She hesitated for a moment. “I brought people into my confidence where I had to.”

Same as he had done, he thought, considering the way he had shared pretty much everything he had learned with his own first officer. He had decided that he would draw a line in the sand. There was a limit on how far he was willing to go without understanding the full implications of what he had been asked to do. "You want my help, my condition is that I know at least as much as your own crew. And I want my own people—at the very least my science officer—to be read in as well. You can count on Commander Xylion's discretion, I'm sure."

He could see the battle that was being waged behind her steely gaze. Then she offered a small nod. “Fine, I arrange a briefing on Agamemnon,” she said and turned towards the exit. “Join us at zero-nine-hundred hours.”

“Maya?”

She stopped short of the doors and turned to face him again.

He stood from his chair and rounded his desk. There had been a question he had been burning to ask her ever since the day she had come to his quarters and had given him a message which had made him doubt everything. The very nature of that message made it almost impossible for him to talk to her about its content. And yet he knew he needed to.

She considered him expectantly when he didn’t speak further.

“A few days ago you gave me a message from my father.”

She nodded but he could tell that she was tensing up, her facial features becoming guarded all of a sudden.

“Did you listen to it?” he asked.

She frowned. “Of course not. It was meant for you, Michael. Why would I listen to it?”

“Do you have any idea why he gave it to you?”

“No, Michael, I don’t. We both know he had his own ways of doing things. Maybe he wanted to make sure that you get it. Maybe he was concerned that it could get lost or intercepted over normal channels.”

“That does sound like my father.”

For a moment they just stared at each other, neither of them speaking and Michael wondered if she had lied to him. If she had, in fact, listened to the message herself. There had been a time, not so long ago, when he had been able to read her quite well, had been able to tell if she wasn't entirely forthright with him. Lately, she had been a complete mystery to him.

“Is there something else? We’re burning daylight here, particularly since you are demanding a full briefing package,” she said, sounding cold as ice.

He shook his head. “No. We’ll be over in half an hour.”

“Good,” she said and then left his ready room with quick strides, once again not waiting for anyone to escort her back to the transporter room.

He uttered a sigh as he kept his eyes on those now closed doors. She had indeed been a mystery to him as of late. Except that he was now more certain than ever of at least one indisputable fact.

Amaya Donners was hiding something from him.
Part Three: A House Divided - 7 by CeJay
7

Elijah Katanga had been doing medical research long enough to understand the value of patience and yet he had never been very good at exhibiting that quality. He had earned a reputation not just of being stubborn, but also of being terrible at waiting for results.

He hadn’t been able to stop himself from pacing the entire length of the medical lab, his eyes glancing back forth between the chronometer displayed on one of the computer screens and the main doors.

He had every reason to be filled with nervous energy, he thought. After all, the next few minutes could determine if he had indeed found an antidote to a virus which had infected an increasingly large portion of the planet-wide population and whether they would be able to start saving lives now, or if the death toll would continue to climb into the hundreds of thousands before a cure could be produced.

The doors finally parted and he immediately whipped towards the entrance to see DeMara Deen step into the lab. Like most non-Krellonians, she no longer wore an isolation suit since Katanga had been able to evidence with near total certainty that non-Krellonians lacked the biological makeup to be affected by the virus.

The Tenarian was carrying a tray containing three rows of medical pallets, each one, he knew, containing blood and tissue samples. She placed the tray onto a table.

"At last," he said and then quickly pulled on his surgical gloves before he picked up the first sample and sat down at a workstation. He slid the palette into a microscope and looked through the viewfinder. "These were just taken?"

She nodded as she took the workstation next to him to examine the next sample on the tray. “Yes, fifteen minutes ago. I took samples from all groups, including the control group.”

“The virus is still present in sample A,” said Katanga, trying hard to not let that discourage him.

“Same with sample B,” said Deen after a moment.

Elijah reached for the next one and Deen took the one after that.

He quickly shook his head. “C is no good either,” he said and moved on to the next, not waiting on Deen’s report.

Together they checked every last sample until the truth became inescapable and left Elijah to utter a loud and heavy sigh as he pushed back in his chair. “It didn’t work.

“I don’t understand,” said Deen, her own frustration lacing her words as she went back to the microscope to double check their results. “The antiretroviral injections should have neutralized the cell coreceptors which are allowing the virus to replicate. Without the coreceptor, the virus should have no way to attach itself to healthy cells."

“If there is something I’ve learned in my time as a physician, it’s that organisms find ways to propagate, especially when you are trying to stop them from doing that,” he said, looking off in the distance. “Sometimes the only thing that makes us believe that we can stop nature from taking its course is our own arrogance.”

Deen looked towards the veteran doctor. “What are you suggesting? Are you saying we should just give up and let this virus kill its hosts?”

He quickly shook his head. “No, of course not but clearly we need to start from scratch. This is a dead end.”

“I can’t believe that. We had really promising results with our early trials.”

Elijah still refused to make eye contact. “All those trials showed us is that there is a small percentage of Krellonians who have a genetic mutation which makes them resistant to the virus if their cells are properly stimulated. It’s not the answer we were hoping for,” he said and stood. “We still don’t know enough about this damn virus and how it infected the first patient. We’re still missing a crucial piece to the puzzle. It’s like trying to plug a leak without knowing where the pipe is broken.”

The doors to the laboratory opened to allow Tazla Star to step inside. Elijah picked up a nearby padd to continue to explore his thoughts on the matter which he considered to be a much more valuable use of his time than to acknowledging Star’s visit.

“Any news on the antiretroviral treatment?” she asked.

“It didn’t work,” Deen said. “Doctor Katanga doesn’t believe it’s the answer we’re looking for.”

He could feel her quizzical eyes upon him but kept his focus on the padd.

“We’ve set up our operations here less than twenty-four hours ago. I suppose it was overly optimistic for us to expect to have a viable treatment option available this quickly. These things take time.”

"And in the meantime, people die," he said without looking up.

Star decided not to pursue the topic further. "What about our Outlander patients? Local security is eager for us to release them back into their custody. Do we think they'll be able to provide us with any kind of insights into this virus? If not, I really don't believe we can justify holding on to them any longer."

Deen spoke up again when Katanga clearly didn’t have an opinion to share. “Their injuries have been attended to and they are well on their way to making full recoveries. We’ve also taken plenty of blood and tissue samples. I don’t see a reason to keep them here.”

"Sure, let's cut them loose just so those trigger-happy, so-called security forces can go and finish the job and shoot them all dead," Elijah said, his eyes still on the padd.

"I don't like it any more than you do, Eli, but we are not here to try and fix Krellonian social ills. Besides, what is the alternative? This is a hospital, not a prison. And I for one could do without having armed Krellonian guards running around the place."

He lowered the padd to look her in the eye for the first time since she had arrived. “They were executed in cold blood. Not a hundred meters from where we stand. That’s barbaric and I will not be party to those kinds of atrocities. Not if there is any way I can prevent them.”

“I’ve been told that the responsible officer acted in violation of established protocols and will be held accountable for his actions. Chief Administrator Chella assured me personally that the Outlander prisoners will receive a fair trial once they’ve been handed over.”

Elijah turned back to his reading. “I don’t find that reassuring at all. Regardless, it’s a moot point for now. I still need them for additional tests.”

“What kind of tests?” Star wanted to know.

“I’ll let you know once I’ve decided, Commander,” he said and shot her brief glance by looking up from the padd. “Anything else?”

Star remained rooted to the spot for a moment longer as she stared back at the doctor. She exchanged a quick look with Deen who simply shrugged before she turned around and quickly left the lab.

“I see the two of you are still getting along fabulously,” said Deen once the doors had closed behind the Trill.

He simply grumbled in response.

“It’s a shame, really. I know you two have been very close friends for a long time.”

Elijah turned and looked at her, considering the winsome young Tenarian for a brief moment. “Sometimes it’s the people closest to you who end up hurting you the most.”

“I suppose that’s true,” she said, “but usually they don’t do it on purpose.”

"Dee, I believe you are an amazing person, I really do. I don't think I've ever met anyone more kind or caring or—for that matter—more stunningly attractive in my nearly ninety years in this universe. But there are matters I don't believe you are able to fully appreciate at your young age. For all of your great qualities, there are things you simply do not yet have the wisdom—which one can only obtain through good old-fashioned experience and worldliness—to really understand. You'll just have to accept that occasionally that lack of sagacity will be a handicap you won't be able to make up with all your many other skills.

So please, forgive me if I don’t feel like exploring my deeply-rooted and complicated issues with Tazla Star with somebody who has lived a life a mere fraction of the time I’ve been around. And it’s not as if you would feel comfortable discussing your own your recent troubles with our esteemed captain with me. Or am I wrong?”

Deen’s wide-open and brilliant purple eyes simply stared back at Katanga, clearly having been caught entirely off guard by those words and now unable to find any of her own.

Fortunately for her, she didn’t have to, since the lab doors opened yet again to allow another visitor to enter. This time, a uniformed, male Krellonian security officer. He wore a breathing mask to protect himself from potential containment and whereas Star had strode into the lab confidently earlier, the Krellonian appeared downright uncertain about his intrusion.

Elijah shot the tall man with his Mohawk-style haircut which Krellonian military and security officers seemed to favor an annoyed glare. “What is it you want?”

The man looked at the doctor for a moment before his eyes slowly came to settle one Deen. “I … uh … need to arrange feeding the prisoners.”

“Prisoners?” Elijah said sharply. “You mean my patients.”

He nodded slowly. “The Outlanders, yes.”

“And?”

He shot another awkward glance towards Deen, even though his muscular physique, not to mention his chosen line of work, seemed to imply that this was not a man prone to the kind of shyness he was now displaying. “Right. The Lieutenant here has been assisting me with the arrangements.”

Deen turned to look at the officer for the first time as if she had only now remembered. “Yes, of course. Aspirant Retrel, was it?”

He nodded quickly. “Orltu Retrel. Just … uh … Orltu is fine,” he said and offered her a growing grin.

Deen smiled back. “Very well, Orltu. I’ll meet you in five minutes by the replicators.”

The young officer stayed in place for a moment longer than seemed appropriate, simply grinning at Deen, before he left the room again, without giving the doctor a second thought.

“My God woman, do you have this kind of effect on all the men you meet?”

She seemed confused by that.

“Oh don’t give me that look,” he said. “I didn’t need a tricorder to know that his heartbeat was accelerated to a medically unsafe rate just by being in the same room with you.”

Deen simply shrugged. “Some people respond to me more than others.”

“It’s that Tenarian Glow of yours. I would love to study that in more detail and in what ways exactly it affects others around you. Is it a biological effect? Is it purely psychological?”

She didn’t appear fond of the idea, judging by the relatively cold look in her eyes. “I am about as eager for you to study me as you are discussing your personal relationships, Doctor.”

He nodded. “Fair enough.”

“I better get going. These Krellonians don’t like to be kept waiting.”

“Something tells me that young Aspirant Orltu wouldn’t mind waiting for you until hell freezes over.”

She regarded him with a disapproving look. “A much more likely scenario is that I will be questioned once more as to when we will release the Outlander patients. And I’m running out of excuses. They’re no longer buying my story that we’ll need them to develop a potential cure for the epidemic,” she said but was already heading for the doors.

“Maybe not a cure,” Elijah said, almost to himself as a thought was beginning to form in his head.

Deen stopped to look at him.

“What have we been told about this virus?” he said. “How this entire epidemic got started in the first place?”

“That it was a purposeful act by a terrorist group. A biological attack,” she said.”

He snapped his fingers. “Exactly. By the Outlanders.”

“Targeted specifically at Krellonians. If that is true, don’t you think they’ve already tried every trick in the book to attempt and get that information from those they believe to be responsible? You’ve seen what they’re capable of. I wouldn’t be surprised if they haven’t tortured people to death to get this information. What makes you think an Outlander would speak to you about this?”

“Simple,” he said. “I’m not Krellonian. The problem is I can’t get within two meters of an Outlander without one of those security goons sticking his nose in. Now, if I could get some alone time with one of our patients, maybe I could get some answers.”

“I don’t think I like where this is going.”



* * *



As it turned out, DeMara Deen hadn’t liked Elijah’s plan at all. And yet she had begrudgingly agreed to go along with it.

All the Outlander patients, those who had raided the facility just the previous night and had all been wounded to some degree or other by the Starfleet team trying to stop them, or, much more viciously, by the Krellonian security forces, were being kept in individual isolation rooms, carefully guarded by armed Krellonian officers.

One of those rooms allowed easy access via a side door which Elijah could use to slip inside and speak with the patient undisturbed, as long as the single officer standing guard by the main door would not pay attention to the room and the people inside.

That guard happened to be one Aspirant Orltu Retrel and by the time Elijah had unlocked the side door to gain access, sometime after dinner had been distributed to the patients, Retrel was deeply involved and eagerly participating in a conversation with DeMara Deen a few meters away from his normal post just outside the isolation room.

Elijah had no idea what it was that Deen was speaking to him about that had him entirely distracted from his duties, but he was certain that the subject of the conversation mattered little to the young officer, as long as he had an excuse to be in her company.

The patient was an amber furred, lupine T’aq. Since the Krellonians had not been very forthcoming in sharing information about the composition of the Star Alliance, least of which details on the Outlander population, most of what Katanga knew about the T’aq had come from Culsten.

The lupine race originated from a planet about three light-years from Krellon Prime and had been conquered early on during the Krellonian period of military expansion and conquest. A formidable species in its own right, it had apparently taken decades and many bloody campaigns to fully subjugate this naturally aggressive race. Their athletic prowess, as well as their high level of intelligence, had quickly made the T'aq one of the most favored slave races within the Star Alliance and since their quasi-emancipation, they had also become the loudest voices demanding equal treatment within the Star Alliance.

As far as Katanga understood matters, Outlanders had the same rights under the law as Krellonians, at least in theory, but in reality, were treated like second-class citizens. It was little surprise then that they had formed armed resistance groups and the T'aq, apparently, were often found among their leaders.

"Another test?" the T'aq named Hou said upon noticing Elijah stepping inside his room but without paying him much attention. He was lying down on top of his bed, wearing a medical gown which clearly hadn't been designed for his tall and lanky body which to Eli looked like a cross between a full-grown human man and a timber wolf, complete with a fully fur-covered body, a broad and elongated snout and small ears standing up from the top of his skull.

“I thought perhaps we could have a conversation instead.”

He directed his gray eyes towards Elijah. From his medical file, he knew that Hou was somewhere between twenty and twenty-five years, which made him a fully-grown, albeit young adult as far as his anatomy was concerned. Those eyes appraising him quietly, however, seemed to speak of a far older individual. “You wish to … talk?”

Elijah nodded. “Yes, why not? I would like to learn more about you and your people. And I’m happy to share more about mine. I imagine you don’t get to hear much about the galaxy outside the Star Alliance.”

After a moment he glanced towards the observation windows where he would likely have expected his guard to watch over him.

“Don’t worry about the security officer. He’s currently otherwise preoccupied.”

Hou glanced back at Elijah. “What is it you want, Human?”

It was obvious that he suspected an ulterior motive. “You know why we are here?”

“To try and help the Krells,” he said and turned away again, seemingly no longer interested in this conversation.

“I’m a doctor. My job is to help anyone who needs it. I don’t care if they are Krellonian or T’aq or whatever. If somebody is sick, it is my duty to help them get better. It is a code that I and those like me live by. I treated your wounds just like I am treating those who have been affected by this virus.”

“You have a code. So have I.”

Elijah took a step closer to the bed. “And what’s your code telling you to do?”

He said nothing, didn’t even make eye contact again.

“Do you know anything about this virus, Hou?”

The corners of his mouth drew upwards in what Elijah assumed was an approximation of a smile, except that his looked much more menacing as he revealed razor sharp teeth. "You wish to learn what I have learned?" He reached up with one arm, his four-fingered hand looking very much like a paw, and then pulled down his garment to reveal his chest.

Katanga had not treated Hou’s wounds personally but had been told by his staff that some of the Outlander patients had shown signs of physical abuse which predated their most recent injuries. He could see that those reports had been somewhat understated. Entire swaths of his fur had peeled or burned away to lay bare relatively fresh scars where the skin underneath had been cut so deeply, deep and unnatural valleys had formed, crisscrossing his chest and in dire need of skin grafts. There was little that shocked Elijah anymore except perhaps of the callous violence sentient people still insisted on perpetrating on each other. As a physician with decades worth of experience, his first thought, however, was to ensure those wounds would be seen to as soon as possible.

“What do you think you can do to me, Human, which has not already been done?”

Eli took an undeterred step closer. “First of all, I will ensure you get the medical care you require.”

“I suppose you would like me to reward you for that care with information.”

“No. I don’t require a reward for practicing my craft. But I am asking, as one sapient creature to another, to help me find a way to cure this virus. For you to share whatever information you may have to allow me to do that.”

Hou pulled the bed sheet over his battered body again and turned his head away once more. “And why would I want to do this? This virus is only killing the Krells. It was designed for that purpose. Why would I want to stop it?”

“Then you are confirming that this is an engineered virus? That it was spread via a biological attack?”

But Hou seemed to have no interested in speaking about this further.

“This pandemic, it’s affecting every single Krellonian. Women, children, the elderly, those who probably have never harmed an Outlander in their life, or would think of doing so. I know enough about your society to know that not every Krellonian is an enemy of your people. Can you truly be satisfied with unleashing a virus which has the potential of eradicating an entire race of people? Can you be callous enough to be party to genocide?” Elijah said, unable to keep the rising fire out of his voice.

“Perhaps it is divine retribution,” he said coolly, keeping his head turned away. “Perhaps it is the Wolfmother’s will to end the Krells for once and for all. To punish them for all the sins they and their forefathers have committed against the T’aq and the others. I won’t stand in the way of celestial destiny.”

The door to the isolation room opened suddenly and when Elijah looked up he could see a rather unhappy Retrel standing in the doorway, one hand precariously resting on top of his holstered sidearm. “Doctor,” he said, sounding noticeably aggravated. “You are not authorized to visit a prisoner unsupervised. I must ask you to step out of the room immediately.”

Deen appeared at his side and placed a gentle hand on his arm which caused him to relax visibly. “That’s quite alright, Orltu, I’m fairly certain that he didn’t mean any harm and that he has finished with his examination of the patient. Aren’t you, Doctor?”

Elijah looked at them both and then spared on last glance at Hou who refused to look at anyone. “Yes, I suppose I’m done here,” he said and headed for the doors where Orltu and Deen made room for him to step outside. “But we’re not done with Hou’s treatment. I’ll have a team come by later to treat the rest of his injuries. I expect you to allow them full access so that they can do their jobs.”

Deen stepped in again. “That shouldn’t a problem, should it, Orltu?”

He swallowed before he spoke. “No, no of course not. As long as … I can supervise their efforts.”

“Just don’t get in the way,” Elijah barked and then shot one last, parting glance at the lupine in the room. When he showed no signs of interest at all, he left the room and then briskly walked down the corridor to leave the isolation ward.

Deen caught up with him after a few moments.

“That was a total waste of time,” he said. “I won’t be able to cut through centuries of mistreatment and growing resentment and mistrust in one short conversation. I doubt even you, with all your charm, could accomplish that feat.”

“Probably not.”

Elijah stopped once they had left the ward to face the Tenarian. “And talking about charm, do you really have to be that friendly with the guard? The Krellonians are nothing more than cruel bullies in the worst possible way.”

Deen responded by crossing her arms in front of her chest defiantly. “You asked me to distract him and that’s what I did. You don’t get to criticize me for how I did it.”

“Right,” he said.

She relaxed slightly. “Besides, Orltu isn’t that bad. We had a very interesting conversation, he and I.”

“That’s nice. But do me a favor and don’t go and become best friends with the people trying to abuse and kill my patients,” he said and turned to walk away.

“That is hardly fair, Doctor,” she said after him. “Not when it appears I’ve been much more successful than you have.”

He turned around again to regard her with a quizzical expression. “Oh yes? How do you figure that?”

She took a step closer. “While your patient may not have been in a mood to talk to you, our eager aspirant was more than willing to open up to me. I learned quite a bit which could prove useful.”

“Such as?” he asked, sounding doubtful.

“For one, Orltu doesn’t believe that Hou is involved with the terrorist group behind the virus. So even if he had wanted to speak to you, he probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you anything useful.”

“Fantastic. But I don’t see how that helps us.”

“Well, maybe this will,” she said as she continued. “Orltu was among the security officers who came across the first patients infected by this virus. He can’t tell me where those patients are now but he could tell me exactly where they were found. I think he may have just given me ground zero of this epidemic.”

Elijah couldn't hide his surprise.

Deen’s smile widened. “You see, Doctor, I may be young and relatively inexperienced compared to you with your long and illustrious career and I may not have that same wisdom and world-weariness you seem to be so proud of. But that doesn't mean I can't get results through other means. I suggest you keep that in mind the next time you require my help," she said and then turned to walk away, leaving Elijah to watch her stride off, not entirely able to keep a dumbfounded expression off his face.
Part Three: A House Divided - 8 by CeJay
8



The general interior design of the Agamemnon didn’t differ a great deal from that of Eagle but since she was a slightly newer ship, the color palette was more subdued, with more beige, brown and dark crimson instead of the prevailing gray-tones, oranges, and blues which could be found throughout Michael's command. The design was also more streamlined, perhaps as a reflection of her more aerodynamically shaped outer hull which seemed to speak of speed, agility, and power.

Michael had always felt a little odd stepping onto a starship with wasn’t his own and perhaps this was true for most ship captains who had gotten used to the feeling of being in control—or at least, in command of their surroundings at most times. On the Agamemnon, however, he was merely a visitor, a guest with no authority over the men and women who crewed her and who looked upon another to lead them.

He didn’t much care for that feeling and wondered how Amaya had made it look so effortless when she had come to visit Eagle, or perhaps, he now wondered, it had just been a front and she had been just as uncomfortable as he was now, which certainly would have helped to explain her recent attitude.

He dismissed those latter thoughts, fairly certain that there were other factors to explain her behavior than feeling ill at ease on another captain’s ship.

Michael and Commander Xylion had been greeted in one of Agamemnon's transporter rooms by Maya’s first officer, an efficient and affable Bolian by the name of Arden Texx, who had exchanged the usual pleasantries before escorting both of them to the ship’s briefing lounge positioned behind the main bridge on the top of her saucer section.

Michael tried to not let it bother him that Amaya’s briefing room was somewhat more spacious than his own.

She was already waiting for them along with a tall, dark and broad-chested officer wearing a blue shirt under his uniform and whom she introduced as Wayne Daystrom, Agamemnon’s chief science officer.

Michael didn’t know Wayne personally but was naturally familiar with his famous grandfather, Richard Daystrom, who had been one of the foremost scientific minds of his generation and the inventor of the duotronic computer on which most modern computers were still based. If not a spitting image of his more famous forbearer, Wayne possessed the same large and imposing frame and while he seemed young to be the head of a science department on a ship of the line, Michael figured that if he had a mind just half as sharp as his grandfather’s had been, he was probably more than qualified.

Amaya had taken her chair at the head of the conference table as was befitting the ship’s commanding officer and she spent little time on introductions, instead jumping right into the matter at hand. He thought she was doing a poor job of hiding her resentment at having to hold this meeting in the first place and at his instance.

“Wayne, why don’t you walk our guest through the plan to ensure they’re confident with what we are proposing and alleviate any concerns of possible risks to either ship?”

Daystrom nodded and then did what science and engineering officers always did throughout the fleet when called upon to demonstrate their latest findings or solutions. He stood from his chair and walked over to the large screen mounted into the wall to give his presentation with the aide of the computer. The young human did so with perhaps a little bit more noticeable enthusiasm than Michael was used to from his more seasoned and somber Vulcan science officer.

“Of course. We’ll be using a similar method the crew of the Enterprise utilized seven years ago, channeling warp energy directly to the main deflector dish. This will allow us to locate a spatial rupture which we believe functions as a gateway to the subspace domain inhabited by the aliens,” he said and activated the screen to show what appeared to be a scan of a spatial rupture. “However, the location of the rupture is not fixed and will only remain stable for approximately one hour. After that, the rupture itself destabilizes again. We have been able to predict where the rupture will appear which has been consistently at roughly point six light-years relative to our position when we initiate the scan.”

Michael shot a quick glance towards Xylion, fully aware that he had already made the calculations.

“At warp nine point nine five, it would require one point three six hours to travel zero point six light-years,” the Vulcan said without delay.

Amaya nodded. “We’ve tried this a number of different times but on every attempt, we were unable to reach the rupture before it had already destabilized again,” she said with a look in her eyes that was clearly meant to impart that she had not reached out to him and Eagle on a whim.

He was still not convinced that it justified the abuse of a priority distress call. “If you have the approximate location of where the rupture will appear, why couldn’t you just get a shuttle or runabout near those coordinates and just wait for it to show up?”

Amaya turned to Daystrom. “Wayne, would you mind taking that one?”

The young scientist hesitated for a moment, as if not knowing what to make of her tone before he turned back to the screen to activate a simulation. "We've attempted this as well," he said as another part of the screen began to display a computer graphic of the region of space shaped into a grid. A large Starfleet delta on the left-hand side of the screen represented Agamemnon. The delta lit up to indicate that the ship had started the process to scan for the rupture which appeared shortly thereafter near the center of the screen and represented by a red dot.

“This is what happens when we try to detect the anomaly. As I mentioned it will appear approximately point six light-years from our given position,” he said and entered another command. This time a smaller Starfleet delta representing a support craft, took position near where the red dot had appeared. But on this occasion when Agamemnon initiated the scan again, the rupture reformed not where it had before but some additional distance away from Agamemnon and the support craft.

“It doesn’t like to appear near a solid object as far as we can tell,” said Maya.

Eagle is a solid object,” Michael said.

She once again referred to her science officer.

"Here is what happens if we invert the shuttle's warp field," he said and entered a few more commands. This time the dot appeared much closer to the shuttle. "In this next exercise, we inverted the warp field of the runabout which has a more powerful warp core." The dot appeared even closer to the smaller delta now. "It's still not close enough to reach it before it destabilizes, especially not with the limited speed of a shuttle or runabout, but we've been able to determine that the rupture distance directly corresponds to the power of the vessel's warp drive. Or more precisely, to the strength of the inverted warp field that the vessel is able to generate."

“Think of it like a magnet,” said Maya. “The more powerful the magnet and the magnetic field it can produce, the higher the level of attraction, and the closer the rupture appears.”

Wayne nodded along. “According to our calculations, the warp drive of a starship will be able to produce an inverted warp field powerful enough to attract the rupture to a distance close enough to allow us to reach it before it collapses. “

"And once we do, then what?" Michael said, looking at his fellow starship captain. "Do you expect us to just walk into subspace and confront these aliens? How do we even know this rupture will take us where we need to go?" He realized that he had sounded slightly more confrontational than perhaps he had wanted to, but the truth was, he was growing increasingly irritated with the way Amaya was running this operation without so much as consulting him first. Perhaps he was even somewhat hurt that she had adopted such a single-minded approach.

She clearly didn’t miss his prickly tone and responded in kind. “You won’t have to worry about any of that,” she said curtly. “In our plan, Eagle will be the ship to initiate the scan for the rupture and we will be in a position to approach the anomaly. I already have a team prepared to enter the rupture and make contact with the subspace aliens."

He considered her for a moment longer, but when she had nothing more to add, he instead turned back to his own science officer. “Commander, what are your thoughts on this plan so far?”

Xylion raised an eyebrow in typical Vulcan fashion before he responded, keeping his eyes on the screen which still ran Daystrom’s most recent simulation. “I would need to study the data in more detail before I can form a definitive conclusion. Subspace anomalies are difficult to predict and often do not adhere to established astrophysical parameters.”

Maya shook her head before he had even stopped talking. “We don’t have the time for a second opinion on this,” she said and looked at Michael. “We’ve already studied this phenomenon for the last few days and I’m not willing to waste any more time. We need to do this now. Besides, you said it yourself; you have your own mission and half your crew stuck back on Piqus. The sooner we get this done, the sooner you can get back to that.”

Michael had to acknowledge that she did make a decent point, certainly regarding his concerns about leaving Star and her team practically stranded on a Krellonian colony. Maya seemed to be determined that Eagle was to do little more than playing the role of a glorified lighthouse, showing Agamemnon the way to where they needed to go, meaning that all of the risks were Amaya's to shoulder. And who was he to tell her what risks she should and shouldn't take with her own ship and crew? Still, it bothered him. "I don't think this a good idea," he said but then continued when he noticed her growing frown. "But I understand the urgency and accept that this is a risk worth taking."

“Excellent,” she said and quickly stood, clearly eager to get underway after the time already lost explaining her plan. “Wayne will let you know everything you need to know to make the necessary modifications to your ship. As soon as you are back on Eagle, we’ll set course for the location we believe the rupture will appear. You should be able to get started in … what?” she said, glancing briefly at Daystrom. “Four hours?”

He nodded.

“We’ll head your way as soon as the rupture has appeared,” Michael said.

"There's really no point. By the time you reach us, the rupture will already have closed and we'll be back in normal space. We'll have to work on a strict timeline."

He decided to stick to his guns. “Nevertheless, I’d be more comfortable if you have some backup even if we won’t get there in time. Just in case something does go wrong.”

Amaya clearly didn’t want to spend time arguing the point and simply offered a short nod. She turned to her first officer who had not spoken throughout the meeting. “Arden, make sure you escort our guests back to the transporter room as soon as they are done here.”

“Will do.”

She offered one last brief glance towards Michael and Xylion, exchanging nothing more than curt nods before she quickly left the room and by doing so removing any chance for him to try and speak to her further about this plan or anything else for that matter.
Part Three: A House Divided - 9 by CeJay
9

Most people who had crossed paths with Doctor Elijah Katanga over his long and illustrious medical career had come to learn that not much was able to come between him and a task he had set himself and that it was usually easier for everyone involved to either stand beside him or just get out of the way altogether. It was a lesson the crew of Eagle had learned pretty quickly after he had come aboard.

So when Elijah was barreling down the hallway of the field hospital, making a beeline for the administrative office, Nora Laas, who was standing guard outside the doors and who, by all accounts, was a person not afraid of facing any foe, quickly stepped aside when the physician didn’t even slow down his approach.

Elijah had not even stopped to consider why the security chief was guarding the small administrative section of the facility and had been too preoccupied to even notice the trio of Krellonian security guards that had been with her.

Instead, he stepped right through the parting doors with the singular mission of confronting Tazla Star and get her to approve what needed to be done.

“Ah, Doctor Katanga, just in time,” said the Trill first officer when she spotted him entering the room, doing an admirable job at hiding her irritation at the way he had barged inside.

Elijah paused for a moment, confused by her surprisingly accommodating tone, one he hadn’t expected considering the heated nature of their latest encounters. It was only then that he took stock of the other person in the room. Chief Administrator Chella, wearing a breathing mask, stood to one side, apparently having arrived for another round of inspections.

“We were just discussing the progress you have made on identifying the nature of the virus,” Star said.

“Or rather the lack of it,” said Chella, sounding noticeably displeased which as far as Elijah was concerned, was her default demeanor, since he had never observed the woman with anything else but a frown etched into her serious features.

“We have made more progress in isolating and identifying the active retrovirus attacking the Krellonian immune system in two days than your physicians have done in two weeks.”

Chella’s frown only deepened. Whereas Elijah would have considered such news a positive development, the Krellonian leader seemed to take offense to his brazen tone.

Star, ever playing the part of the diplomat—which was curious in itself, since he vividly recalled that her previous host and his good friend Dezwin, had been anything but—quickly put on a smile. “What the good doctor is trying to say,” she said and threw him a quick, warning glance, before turning back towards Chella, “albeit rather clumsily, is that it takes time to find a cure for a such a viral disease, but that we are pursuing a number of promising avenues.”

Elijah had no idea when exactly she had turned from a plain truth-speaker to somebody trying to twist and embellish reality in order to present it in a more favorable light. It hadn't been after Dezwin had been joined with Star, that much he was sure of. That only left the possibility that it had to have been Tazla's ambitions that had steered Star into this direction. For all his medical knowledge and experience, he wasn't an expert in Trill psychology and how multiple joinings over the centuries, with the symbiont moving from one host to the next, each time merging with a new individual, affected the new person this fusion inevitably created. He knew, however, that he was beginning to resent this latest iteration of Star. "At the moment there really is just one avenue I am interested in," he said.

Star gave him a surprised look, clearly not happy with the contradiction, nor, apparently knowing exactly where he was going with it, and probably having hoped he’d voice such thoughts in private with her first.

That was too bad, as far as he was concerned. He needed to move on this now.

“And what would that be?” Chella asked.

“We need to identify where this virus first originated and who the first patients were.”

She shook her head. “The first victims of this attack are already dead, Doctor.”

"I'll need to carry out extensive autopsies on their bodies. But in the meantime, I need access to the Paradise Quarter in the city."

“What for?” Chella said.

“I have it on good authority that it might be the epic center of this disease.”

But the administrator shook her head. “Out of the question. I will not allow alien visitors to mingle with our people. I made that very clear from the start. Besides, there is nothing to find in the Paradise District. It’s a rundown slum filled with abandoned buildings and a few dilapidated tenements occupied by Outlander low-lives. It's the last place these terrorists would have released their weapon. Krellonians do not tend to frequent that area."

"Be that as it may," he said, not willing to back down, now that he had an angle to pursue. "I'll still need to investigate the area. If it is as abandoned as you say, there won't be much chance of us disturbing the natives."

Star frowned at his choice of words.

Chella didn’t like it either. “This is a line I am not willing to cross. And that is my final decision on this matter. If you feel that there might be something in the Paradise Quarter that could help you, I’m willing to send some of my security people to investigate if you tell me what they should look for.”

“It’s not going to work that way,” he said, shaking his head in frustration. “I won’t know what I’m looking for until I see it. I’m the one who will need to go.”

Chella glanced at Star in exasperation, trying to prompt her to talk some sense into her subordinate.

But before either of them could respond, the door of the room opened and Aspirant Retrel stepped inside. “Apologies for the disruption, Chief Administrator, but you have an emergency call.”

Chella reacted immediately, like an official who had gotten quite efficient in dealing with ongoing crises over the last few weeks. “Excuse me,” she said and promptly followed the aspirant out of the room.

"Very nice, Eli," Star said in a mocking tone as soon as the doors had closed behind her. "Really, well done. Why don't you try to insult her some more while you're at it? I can't see how it could possibly hurt our efforts at this point."

“Spare me the sarcasm, it doesn’t suit you at all.”

“It seems I haven’t got much else left,” she said, shooting back.

“I don’t know, looks to me you have plenty of smiles and pretty words to offer to the pigheaded administrator.”

“It’s called tact. You might want to try it sometime.”

He just turned his back to her. "I'll have plenty of tact once this crisis is over. For now, I need plain and simple action. Not dancing around the issues at hand and desperately trying to make friends in high places."

She took a step towards him. “That’s what you don’t get, Eli. No one can deny that you’re a brilliant physician. Dez would never have admitted it, but even he knew that you were more talented than he ever was. But you can’t solve every problem with a direct approach. Sometimes you have to grease the wheel a little bit to get what you need.”

“Well, I’ll leave the wheeling and dealing to you, you seem to have gotten quite adept at it. I’ll focus on the trying to save this planet.”

She uttered an exasperated sigh. “You’re not making that part easy on me. Now, what’s this talk about the Paradise Quarter?”

He turned back to face her. “You can thank our lovely DeMara and her inexplicably powerful charms for that information. According to some members of the Krellonian security forces, that’s where the first victims came from. I need to see for myself.”

“If Chella is right about that place, it doesn’t sound like it makes sense as the target of a biological attack.”

“At the moment, I don’t care what may or may not make sense. It’s a lead and we need to follow it.”

Star determinedly shook her head. “We’re not going to disregard directives from Krellonian authorities while we are playing in their backyard. I could try to get in touch with Councilor Yorlo and see if he can put some pressure on her, but I don’t like the idea of what that could mean for our relationship with her. We’ll still need to work with Administrator Chella here on the ground.”

Eli groaned inwardly as Star yet again expressed her concerns about the political implications of their actions instead of focusing on what was truly important. “Yorlo is not exactly expedient. The last time we tried to get something done through him we were sitting on our backsides for days. We don’t have the time for this.”

The doors opened once more and Chella reemerged. Elijah quickly realized that frowning was apparently not the only expression in her repertoire. The Krellonian woman looked positively distraught. Close to tears, in fact. “It’s my daughter. They found her collapsed in our home. She’s got the plague.”

Star, to her credit, immediately sprung into action. “Let’s have her beamed directly to this facility,” she said and then looked at him. “Get an examination room prepped for an incoming patient.”

Elijah didn’t hesitate either this time and quickly stepped out, beating both Star and Chella to it, in order to lead the team examining this latest patient himself.

Less than two minutes later, Chella's daughter had materialized in one of the hospital's examination rooms. Elijah guessed her age to be between twelve and fourteen and of average size and build for an adolescent Krellonian girl. Her face was already paler than it had any rights to be and she was unconscious.

Not a moment after she had materialized, her upset mother barged into the room. "Yira, no. Please, no. I told you, I told you to stay at home. To be careful. How is this possible?" she cried, verging between anger, frustration, and fear.

DeMara Deen was on hand before Elijah had to say it and the Tenarian gently reached out to the woman. “Administrator, please, let the doctor and his team do their jobs. We’ll be able to observe from outside the room and stay out of their way as they help your daughter.”

Chella made eye contact with Deen and her calm demeanor seemed to rub off on her as she was being gently guided out of the room, even if her increasingly wet eyes darted back to the form of her unconscious daughter on the biobed.

Elijah and his team worked on their newest patient for twenty minutes, first confirming what they were up against—it was, without doubt, yet another case of the Piqus Plague—then using various proven methods to stabilize her fluctuating bio readings before trying to apply some of the treatments which had shown success in slowing the spread of the retrovirus to the victim’s immune system.

When he emerged from the room a good twenty minutes later, Chella was waiting for him, along with Tazla Star.

“She is late stage two,” he said in that tone that doctor’s used when breaking bad news to their patients’ loved ones. “We’ve stabilized her for now.”

Chella seemed shaken with disbelieve. “Stage two? That’s not possible. She has shown no symptoms at all. No signs that she had even been infected.”

"The symptoms are all there. The best I can guess is that she has been hiding them very well," he said and didn't add his second best guess, which was that Chella had simply not noticed them.

The pained look in her eyes seemed to confirm that it was probably the more accurate hypothesis and that the chief administrator had been so busy with the unfolding medical crisis on her world, that she had not had the time to take note of the deteriorating condition of her own daughter.

“I …” she started out but the rest of the words died in her throat. “Can I see her?”

He nodded. “She is conscious but weak. You can talk to her for a few minutes.”

Chella turned towards the room.

“Administrator, there’s still the matter of—“ Elijah stopped when he felt a hand around his arm. He turned to see that it belonged to Star who gave him a persistent look, shaking her head slightly.

When he looked back towards Chella, he realized that she hadn’t even noticed him speak and had instead continued into the room to be with her daughter.

This time Eli relented. But as Star let go of him and he left the examination ward, he was more determined than ever that he was not going to give up on the task ahead of him. After all, and as most people who knew him were very much aware, little could stand in his way to deter him once he had set himself one.
Part Three: A House Divided - 10 by CeJay
10


“Doctor Katanga has some ideas on what needs to be done in order to find a cure for this epidemic. Let’s just say they are not exactly orthodox and the local authorities here are not overly impressed with his suggestions.”

Michael nodded, having known the stubborn physician long enough to be able to picture exactly what Star was reporting. “I trust you have things in hand.”

To this, she uttered a sigh.

“That bad?”

“The good doctor has been more difficult than usual as of late,” she said as her picture monetarily dropped out from his screen due to interference, only to be quickly replaced again.

“I had noticed,” he said, not having missed the unusual animosity between his XO and chief medical officer. He had his suspicions as to the nature of their disagreement but had not pried into the matter.

“I will handle it,” she said, sounding much more resolute and dispelling any concerns that her quarrels with her longtime friend and colleague would endanger the mission.

Truthfully Michael had none. It had been a long journey—for both of them—but he had learned to trust Tazla Star’s instincts and abilities to overcome the challenges she faced. “I’m certain that you do.”

She offered a small bop of her head to acknowledge his confidence in her before she moved on. “I am also glad to report that our other personnel issue is starting to make progress.”

“Oh?”

"The officer we were discussing previously and who has raised some motivational concerns in the latest performance evaluations has started to show some actual interest in performing her duties in the manner we would expect her to. It's too early to say if it will show any results but it is a good first step."

He needed no further reminder of what Star was talking about. Her long background in the clandestine intelligence community had made it easy for her to talk about something of significance without making it appear important to anyone possibly listening in to their conversation. The channel was encrypted as to standard procedures, of course, but that alone didn’t guarantee their privacy, especially not since she was transmitting from a planet ruled by a xenophobic government which as far as they knew, could have been plotting with an alien race to invade the Federation.

“Glad to hear it. Keep a close eye on the situation. I expect all my officers to perform their duties to the best of their abilities, but in this particular case, I appreciate that there are mitigating circumstances to consider.”

She nodded. “I understand,” she said. “And I will be available to offer my full support where necessary.”

“It is in our best interest that this officer moves past her recent issues and shows some initiative soon. But let’s not yet force the issue.”

Star smirked. “I’ll be gentle.”

He nodded.

“How about your situation?” she asked. “Is the Agamemnon all right?

Michael uttered a little sigh. Mindful that this transmission could be intercepted, he couldn’t just come out and say what was really on his mind or offer any details on why Eagle had returned to the Diaspora under pretenses. “Her situation is currently stable. However, they will require some additional assistance before we can return. Working with Captain Donners hasn’t been as smooth as I would like.”

Star seemed to appreciate his ongoing frustration with the greater issues at play and which only the two of them understood at present. Or rather, didn’t. At least not fully. "We should be fine fending for ourselves for a while longer. We had a small incident with looters yesterday and a rather overzealous and disproportionate response by the local security forces but we've been able to contain the situation."

Michael perked up. “Any casualties?”

She shook her head. “Not on our side. But some of the looters were killed by the security forces. Administrator Chella has assured me that she’s looking into the matter but I’m not holding my breath. Civil liberties don’t appear to be priorities in Krellonian society. Not where certain segments of the population are concerned.”

"Just be careful and don't get involved in internal politics, no matter how tempting. Our mission focus must remain on providing medical assistance and try to find a way to cure that disease. That's how we spread goodwill and perhaps improve relationships in the long term."

“You don’t have to tell me, sir. And I think, for the most part, our people understand this. With a few minor exceptions. But I’ll handle those.”

He had a pretty good idea whom she was referring to.

“Our relationship with Administrator Chella has improved since her daughter has unexpectedly fallen sick and we have taken her in as a patient. We’re hopeful that the disease hasn’t spread so far that she cannot still be saved. Once we find a cure, that is.”

Michael frowned as he noticed her image on his computer screen beginning to distort with static. It hadn’t been stable from the start, mostly thanks to the suboptimal conditions for subspace communications inside the Amargosa Diaspora and the heavy electromagnetic radiation prevalent within due to the high concentration of stars in the cluster.

“We’re about to lose the real-time uplink,” he said, expecting the connection to terminate shortly. “I have every confidence that you’ll stay on top of the situation on the ground, considering the challenging circumstances. I’ll try to contact you again within twenty-four hours.”

He could just about see Tazla Star nodding but her words were too heavily distorted to make out clearly before she cut out completely.

Michael leaned back in his chair, considering the screen of his computer console which once again only displayed the blue and silver seal of the Federation. He hated the feeling of being so far removed from his own people, for all intents and purposes, stranded on an alien world. But he also knew that at least for now, Star and her people were on their own while he dealt with a potentially far larger concern. He had lied when he had said that he trusted Star and her team on Piqus to be able to handle whatever came their way. He just wished he had the same confidence about what Amaya Donners was up to while they were meddling with forces beyond regular time and space.
Part Three: A House Divided - 11 by CeJay
11

Lif Culsten hated being on Piqus. He hated being sequestered in the runabout to reduce the chance of being infected by the patients in the temporary medical facility he had helped set-up just next door, he hated the cold and windy climate which made it downright hazardous to step outside during certain times of the day, and he hated being surrounded by the small-mindedness of his own people who looked upon any stranger with guarded suspicion and treated the Outlanders, the very people they had once enslaved, still little better than second-class citizens even after so-called reformed and equal rights.

He also hated the fact that Eagle had come to this world for apparently no other reason than because his own uncle had pulled the necessary strings to get him—not a Starfleet ship, or urgently needed medical assistance—but really only just him, all the way out to this planet.

The epidemic which was raging across this small colony world was a terrible disaster, of course, and Eagle was well equipped to deal with such a calamity, especially since Doctor Katanga was a specialist not just in virology but also, as he had already proven, in quickly setting up a medical operation on planets far removed from the Federation. But the fact that he served on Eagle was nothing more than a lucky accident and if not for Lif, it could really have been any Starfleet ship that could have been dispatched to try and solve this crisis.

He wasn’t sure what had been more depressing, the fact that this virus was killing hundreds of Krellonians, or the fact that his uncle had used this disaster as a pretense to get him to Piqus and find out what his estranged wife was up to.

Lif was particularly unhappy that he had been asked to stay behind on this planet after Eagle had left to answer Agamemnon’s distress signal when he had made it clear that he had no interest whatsoever to get involved in the personal or, more likely, the political squabbled within his own family.

And yet everybody around him had appeared to have an opinion on it, starting with the captain who had made it clear, for reasons which still mystified him, that he should take his uncle up on his request. He had stopped short of ordering his compliance but it was obvious that Star expected him to fall into line, simply by the tone in her voice and the way she looked at him every time she checked up on him, which he had found had become far more frequently than he would have liked.

Louise's feelings on the matter were equally apparent, especially since the incident of the Outlanders being executed by security forces practically right in front of their eyes. She had been colder and more distant since they had returned from shore leave where she had not only discovered about the poor treatment of Outlanders on the homeworld but also about his refusal to get involved with this highly divisive and political issue.

It hadn't stopped there. Following the most recent incident, he had been able to see a change in the way many of his friends and colleagues regarded him as if they couldn't understand how he could have so much in common with a people who considered civil rights an inconvenient afterthought.

So he had finally given in. He didn’t expect that it would make much of a difference, but he understood that he needed to be seen to at least try and make a difference and so, after long contemplation, he had reached out to Star to let her know that he was ready to try and meet with Garla.

Chief Administrator Chella, who as it quickly became apparent, was aware of Garla’s presence on Piqus and not at all a big fan of a Sentinel of the Eye operating on her turf with impunity, did however allow for Lif to travel to the nearby capital city as long as he went as a civilian, left his Starfleet uniform behind and was not accompanied by any non-Krellonian offworlders.

Approval was further expedited by the fact that Chella had pretty much started living at the medical facility since her daughter had been admitted.

Just a few hours after Lif had approached Star with his decision, he materialized in the central transporter station near the core of Piqus City and just a few blocks away from where he had been told he’d be able to find his aunt.

The weather was milder and much less blustery in the city thanks perhaps to the cluster of high-rise buildings at its center, and while it was by no means Risa, he had little difficulties to navigate the unfamiliar city which in essence resembled many other medium-sized Krellonian population centers throughout the Star Alliance.

The Eye kept their local headquarters in an indistinct high-rise building with markings and signage that gave no indication to its true purpose.

It wasn't until he stepped into the foyer of the building that he realized that he was probably in the right place since the area was dominated by heavily armed security personnel.

A delicate Kridrip Outlander with long braided hair and large eyes seemed to spot him immediately after he had stepped inside. “Liftu?”

He flinched slightly by the way he pronounced his name. “Yes.”

“I am Tenn. Sentinel Garla is expecting you.”

His surprise lasted only a mere heartbeat. It seemed a foregone conclusion that a person who made her living as a spymaster would have already been expecting him. "Lead the way," he said. The fact that Garla had Outlanders working for her gave him hope that she was not as bigoted as the general Krellonian population, particularly on a provincial colony world such as Piqus. The truth was that although he and Garla had been very close when he had grown up, it hadn't been until his late adolescents that he had even become consciously aware of the pervasive intolerance among his own people, including among his own friends and family. Garla had always seemed somehow above petty racism and discrimination but he had to admit that he didn't really know her personal politics.

Tenn led him towards an elevator, the three armed men guarding it, stepping aside wordlessly, and once inside he waved his fingers in front of a console, causing it to speed up the tall building.

“Do many Outlanders work here?” he said as they stood in silence while the lift was speeding to its destination.

Tenn simply turned his large yellow eyes towards him, regarding him for a few moments but didn't respond making Lif wonder if he had perhaps offended him. If he had, his facial expressions which remained cool and neutral didn't reveal it.

The lift arrived before the silence between them threatened to become awkward. “This way,” he said as the doors opened and he stepped out of the elevator.

Lif understood that her role as a Sentinel—a position for which there really wasn’t any comparable role within Starfleet or even the Federation that he was aware of—gave Garla a great level of resources and autonomy to pursue projects she considered significant for the good of the Star Alliance. As such he had expected Tenn to escort him into a large office for someone befitting her importance. He was surprised when he was led into a holodeck instead.

A very good one as it turned out and certainly much more advanced than the early versions he had encountered before he had left for the Federation.

They stepped into a very faithful representation of what he believed to be the Great Rivers Lowlands, an expansive area of mostly untouched wildland where three of the largest rivers on Krellon merged and dropped into a massive waterfall.

Great Rivers was just a few kilometers to the south of where Lif had spent much of his childhood and as far as he knew was also where Garla had been born.

They found her standing on a natural overlook which offered a spectacular view of the cascade. As far as he could see, the three of them were the only people for kilometers.

Lif marveled once more at how well his aunt had aged over the years as she still looked almost exactly the way he had remembered her from his childhood, with the same short, dark hair cut, a tall frame and a trim and athletic body, well-defined in a brown and gray formfitting suit which was more uniform than business suit and seemed to imply that she was ready for action. Her age-defying appearance seemed unsurprising since he remembered her always having been very athletic.

“I was wondering when you would finally come to visit,” she said with a beaming smile which revealed rows of white teeth. “You’ve been on Piqus for two days now and I haven’t even heard a peep until now.”

“I was not aware you’d be here,” he said, only half-lying. He had certainly not expected to run into her on this backwater world. Not until Yorlo’s unexpected visit.

Her always-appraising eyes revealed that she didn’t fully buy it. “Thank you, Tenn,” she said to her assistant. “That will be all for now.”

He nodded deeply and then, without gracing Lif with another glance, he quickly departed the holodeck.

Lif walked closer to the edge of the outlook. It only now occurred to him that the usually ear-splitting rush of the waterfall below had been muted significantly, likely to allow for conversation. “I always liked this spot.”

She nodded. “We could arrange a trip to the real thing.”

He quickly shook his head. “That’s a couple of weeks round trip from here,” he said. “I can’t leave for that long.”

“I suppose not. Besides, you’ve only just been back to Krellon—what has it been? Three weeks ago? Did you get a chance to come here then?”

“We didn’t have the time to take in all the sights,” he said, keeping his eyes on the majestic waterfall.

“And I remember you brought a companion along. How is your friend the engineer? You seemed quite fond of Lieutenant Hopkins.”

He turned to face her, frowning slightly. It bothered him that she recalled her name with such ease after only meeting her once, and even then only briefly.

“Don’t give me that look,” she said. “It is my job to know these things.”

“Of course it is.”

“Why don’t you tell me a little bit more about you instead?” she said as she walked over to a tree stump and took a seat. “We didn’t get much of a chance to speak the last time.”

“All you wanted to talk about was the supposedly great work you were involved in and how I could help you with making it a success, but you never really told me what it was about.”

“Why? Have you changed your mind about my offer?”

He hesitated. If his purpose of coming here had been to learn more about her work, as his uncle had asked him to do than it made sense for him to pretend that he was interested. But he knew that Garla would see through his ruse almost instantly.

“Or have you come here because my misguided husband is desperate to learn my secrets?”

His eyes betrayed his surprise for a moment. He knew she was good at reading people, he hadn’t expected her to know the exact nature of his conversation with Yorlo.

She smirked. “Please. What kind of Sentinel would I be if I didn’t know about the comings and goings of influential council members and their meetings onboard foreign starships?”

“I am not interested in whatever is going on between you and Yorlo. As far as I’m concerned that is between the two of you.”

"If it were only that simple," she said as she momentarily glanced past him and towards the waterfall. "So tell me then, my dear nephew, what is it that has you interested? That made you come to see me after you had sworn off dealing with any of your own kind ever again."

His frown deepened, not appreciating her psychoanalysis. “I didn’t come back here by choice. I’m a Starfleet officer and I go where they send me.”

“Yes,” she said, not quite able to keep the suspicion out of her voice. “And they’ve sent you all the way out here. To a meaningless rock in the middle of nowhere.”

“On which a serious epidemic has taken hold among the populace.”

She nodded. “That is tragic. But I can’t imagine that it is the Piqus Plague that has brought you to see me. I’m no physician and last time I checked neither are you.”

Lif took a moment to let his eyes wander across the lush landscape of hills and mountains, and thick forests and blue rivers before he settled back onto Garla. "I came here because I am sick to death of how my so-called people treat everyone who is just a little bit different then they are. With their total lack of respect, decency, and compassion for other beings. I am ashamed and disgusted that after all those decades since we have subjugated and enslaved half a dozen races, we still haven't been able to come to grips with the horrible things we have done, and continue to allow ourselves to wallow in our own ignorance and narrow-mindedness as if history never happened."

Garla's smile had disappeared as she stood to look directly at her nephew, standing nearly face-to-face with him. "If that is how you truly feel, Lif, than you have come exactly to the right place."

“How is that?”

“Because I agree with everything you just said. And what is more, I have the cure to not just what has been ailing you, but to the cancer which has plagued the entire Star Alliance for centuries. I know how to fix everything.”
Part Four: Charybdis - 1 by CeJay
Part Four: Charybdis



1

“Sir, we have reached our target position,” Ensign Srena, the Andorian helmsman reported as she turned to look at the captain sitting in his chair behind her.

“Very good. Come to a full stop.”

“Full stop, aye sir,” she said faced her station again to execute the order.

Michael could feel the ship slowing and within moments Srena reported that they had come to a standstill. He stood from the captain’s chair and walked up the slight incline and towards the back of the bridge where Xylion sat at the aft science station. “Commander, are we ready to scan for the anomaly?”

The Vulcan offered a minuscule nod as he worked his instruments. "We have received the exact specifications from Agamemnon and engineering reports that we are ready to channel warp energy through the main deflector,” he said. “According to Lieutenant Daystrom, this will cause the subspace rupture to appear approximately point six light-years of our position.”

“And close to Agamemnon’s current coordinates?”

"Once they invert their warp field, her energy signature should theoretically attract the rupture to appear close to their location," said the Vulcan.

Hearing it all for the second time didn't change the fact that he still didn't much care for this plan. He turned back towards the front of the bridge before he glanced at Leva at tactical. "Commander, hail the Agamemnon, please.”

He activated the required panels on his board and Amaya Donners promptly appeared, larger than life, on the main view screen. “Are you ready to initiate the scan?” she said without preamble.

Michael nodded but wasn’t quite able to keep a frown off his face. “Yes. Are you still planning on entering the anomaly once it appears?”

“We’ve already covered this. I will lead a team into subspace as soon as we have made contact with the rupture.”

His eyes opened a little wider in surprise. He had known that she had planned to send a team, but she had not told him that she was planning on leading it herself, which seemed a clear violation of standard protocol pertaining to commanding officers partaking in potentially dangerous away missions. He knew that Amaya had always been a very hands-on starship captain, preferring to lead from the front rather than watching others take the risks instead, and while he thought this was admirable in theory, he also understood that there were good reasons for protocols like these. “You are planning to go yourself?”

“Michael, we don’t have the time to go through all the details. Yes, I’ll be leading the mission since I have the greatest amount of knowledge about what we might be facing in subspace. It makes the most sense,” she said, indicating that she may have briefed her crew about some of the details about their mission, but apparently, and as to Jarik’s instruction, had kept some of them to herself.

He could tell that there was little point in trying to talk her out of it. “And how do you actually plan to accomplish this?” he said, ignoring her increasing impatience. She needed him and Eagle to do what she had planned, the least she could do is answer his questions first, he argued. “Taking a stroll into a subspace domain isn’t exactly standard procedure.”

“Rest assured we’re well prepared,” she said. “We will be using specially modified personal shields which will protect the away team from the environment we expect to encounter long enough to fulfill our mission. Now, if you don’t mind, we are on a bit of a schedule here.”

He nodded slowly and turned back towards his science officer. “Commander, initiate the sequence.”

"Initiating the main deflector now," he said as his fingers danced over the console.

On the main screen, Maya’s lips curled up into a little smile. “We’ve got it. Just where we thought it would show up. Well done, Eagle. We should be able to get in range in just a few minutes and—“

“Sir, the rupture is destabilizing,” said Xylion.

Amaya’s smile disappeared. “That shouldn’t be happening.”

“At the present rate it will disperse before the Agamemnon will be able to make contact,” the Vulcan said.

She shot Michael a sharp look across the screen. “You’ve made an error in your calculations.”

He walked over to Xylion to look over his shoulder even if much of what his screens displayed was beyond his much more elementary grasp of subspace science. “Is it possible?”

Xylion reviewed his data at a speed which threatened to give him a headache and then looked up. “No mistakes, Captain. The calculations are exactly as provided by Lieutenant Daystrom.”

Obviously, they are not,” she said from the main view screen. “If they had been the anomaly wouldn’t have destabilized so quickly.”

Michael whirled back around, trying to keep his anger in check. Her recent attitude was beginning to test his patience, more so now that she found it so easy to blame them for the failure of her own plan. “We’ve done exactly as you asked, Maya. If there is an error, it’s not on our side.”

The two starship captains glared at each other for a moment and Michael wondered once again at one point they had become so adversarial with each other. She backed off first. “Fine. Still, to be sure, I recommend you carry out a level three diagnostic of all the relevant systems including the main deflector. And send us all your data on the attempt and we will review the calculations and make any amends as necessary.”

He nodded slowly but said nothing.

“Let’s try this again once we know what went wrong, Donners out.” And with that, her face blinked out from the screen.

Michael looked back at his science officer. “Let’s do as she says and send her everything, including the outcome of the diagnostics.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Bensu to Captain Owens.”

Michael looked up upon hearing the unexpected voice and then exchanged a puzzled look with Xylion. It wasn’t often that he heard from his bartender, in fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he had commed him directly. Judging from Xylion’s raised brow, he too had not expected this.

“Yes, Mister Bensu, how can I help you?”

“Sir, I was wondering if I could come see you on the bridge.”

That too was rather peculiar for a civilian who had never shown any signs of interest in starship operations. “This isn’t exactly the best time, Mister Bensu.”

He seemed undeterred. “I think it might be important. And … well, I’m already in the turbolift.”

He glanced towards the closed doors of the lift just to his right. “Very well,” he said, having to admit that he was at least somewhat curious why the enigmatic bartender had chosen this precise moment to get in touch.

No sooner had his words come over his lips, the doors to the lift hissed open and Bensu stepped out. Clearly, he had not only been in the lift already, he had been right behind those closed doors.

Bensu took a couple of gingerly steps onto the bridge, taking in these clearly unfamiliar surroundings before he spotted the captain and walked towards him.

Michael once again took note that Bensu was still a mystery to him in more ways than one. He knew next to nothing about the man's background, couldn't even place his species, knowing only that he had never encountered it before. All he knew for certain was that he and Xylion were close friends. It was the only reason why he had allowed his request to join the crew and why he had agreed to this unorthodox visit.

Xylion for his part stood from his chair. “This is highly irregular,” he said.

“I know,” Bensu said and nodded and then looked at the captain. “And I apologize for the timing of my request, Captain.”

"You said it was important," he said, unable to imagine what could possibly be so significant that he needed to speak to him right this moment.

Bensu looked towards the main screen as if he could see more than the ubiquitous and colorful backdrop of the globular cluster that was the Amargosa Diaspora there. “I … I believe you are trying to open a rupture into subspace,” he said.

Michael couldn’t hide his surprise at this statement and his first thought as to how he could possibly be aware of this was a seemingly unlikely proposition.

Bensu seemed to sense this. “No, Xylion has not been sharing any details about our current mission with me,” he said. “Far from it.”

Michael searched the Vulcan’s face for some confirmation of this but Xylion’s expression remained unreadable while he kept his eyes on Bensu. He found it difficult to believe that Xylion would have revealed anything about a classified mission with a civilian, even if he was a close personal friend. And yet he couldn’t, for the life of him, figure out how else Bensu could have attained this knowledge.

“It may be difficult to understand,” Bensu continued. “Truthfully, I don’t fully understand it myself, but I can sense what it is you’ve been trying to attempt.”

So’Dan Leva, the chief tactical officer, had now taken an interest in this odd conversation as well, and to little surprise since the topic of conversation had started to take on security implications. “Sense it? How is that even possible?”

Bensu regarded the tall half-Romulan officer, but clearly not being intimidated by his suspicious attitude. “I can’t say precisely. The best I’ve been able to come up with so far, is that I have some form of sensibility to this kind of thing. It would also explain why I have been feeling unwell lately, particularly when we were racing through space at very high warp speeds.”

“I can attest to the fact that Bensu required medical attention while we were traveling under the power of the warp sled,” Xylion said.

“Putting aside for a moment that this is quite a gift you seem to have there, Mister Bensu,” Michael said. “Why did you feel it necessary to come up here and tell us this now? How is what you’ve been experiencing significant to what we are trying to do?”

Bensu looked him right in the eye. “Because, sir, I believe I think I know how to create the subspace rupture you are attempting to create.”

That left him speechless for a moment.

Leva seemed somewhat more sanguine about this revelation. “How exactly do you think you can do that?”

“Again, I can’t say for sure,” he said before glancing back at the captain. “But if you would let me, I will try.”

Michael didn't even know where to start with this. This entire conversation was so surreal and unexpected; that a member of his civilian crew could possibly not only know what they were trying to do but in fact was able to offer to do it for them, was so far outside of what he could have expected, it left him without words.

“I understand that this is unusual and if you wish, I can leave you to this and never mention the matter again. But I do know that you will not be successful without my help.”

“You can’t possibly know that,” said Leva, his suspicions rising to new heights.

“You are right,” he said without any signs of taking offense. “I shouldn’t. But I do.”

“How?” the tactical officer challenged.

“You don’t know,” Michael said, already expecting this response.

Bensu simply nodded.

He turned to his science officer. "Commander, would you like to chip in here perhaps? You know Bensu better than anybody else on board. How feasible do you consider these claims to be?"

Surprisingly Xylion didn’t make eye contact with the captain when he spoke, instead keeping his gaze firmly focused on Bensu. “He has shown certain aptitudes since I have known him which have been difficult to explain and yet have been irrefutable,” he said and then finally looked at his captain. “I have no reason not to believe that he might be able to do what he claims.”

Michael shook his head in amazement. "There clearly is a bigger story behind all this and under different circumstances, I would ask that you let me in on all the details before attempting something as crazy as this. But we are operating on a clock here so I'm inclined to trust you on this, Commander. For now," he said and looked back at Bensu. "What do you need?"

“Access to the sensors and the warp energy distribution grid,” he said promptly.

“Captain,” Leva said, clearly not liking the sound of this at all. “I urge caution.”

He nodded. “Agreed,” he said and looked back at the unexpected civilian guest. “You can have limited access to those systems from the science station right here,” he told him. “But Commander Xylion will oversee everything you do, and you will not be given access to any other critical systems of the ship.”

“That should be just fine, Captain. And thank you for trusting me.”

But Michael shook his head. “Let’s be very clear on this, Mister Bensu. I trust my science officer. You have done nothing to earn my trust so far.”

“That is perfectly reasonable.”

Michael sighed. “God, I hope so.”

Xylion led Bensu to his station where the man who usually tended the ship’s bar, ten decks below, took a seat in front of a bridge station that as far as Michael was concerned, he had never even laid eyes upon. This entire plan looked like anything but reasonable to him.

Xylion activated a few controls, presumably to ensure he had the access he had requested and nothing else beyond this.

Bensu nodded. "This will work just fine," he said and then began to gingerly activate a number of controls, evidencing that he was not used to this interface. It didn't take him long, however, to get used to it, as, after just a few moments, he was tapping away as if he had worked on a Starfleet bridge all his life.

Leva had stepped up to the captain while they both observed Bensu at work. “This feels very wrong, sir,” he said in a low tone of voice.

“I know it does. But if I’ve learned one thing over the years, Commander, it’s that sometimes the most unusual and unorthodox methods are the ones that bear the most fruit. We wouldn’t be out here if not for our willingness to embrace the strange and unfamiliar.”

“You think this can actually work?” he asked.

“Right now, I’m just trying to keep an open mind.”

A warning chime from his tactical board distracted Leva from continuing the conversation or keeping his skeptical eyes on the civilian working away at the science station as he turned back to his console. “Sir, I’m reading a spatial disturbance.”

“The subspace rupture?” he asked.

“If it is we may have a big problem,” Leva said and looked up. “It’s forming on deck thirteen.”

Michael quickly stepped up to Bensu. “You didn’t say you were creating the rupture on the ship.”

“I didn’t intend to,” he said as he continued to work on the console. “But I think I can contain it.”

“That’s a big risk,” Michael said. “I’m not sure I’m happy taking it.”

The science officer looked over the readings on the science station. “So far all readings indicate that the anomaly is stable, sir.”
He glanced back over his shoulder. “Commander, evacuate deck thirteen and post armed security all access points. I want level ten force fields around the anomaly.”

“Aye, sir,” the tactical officer said and went to work.

Bensu stopped and lifted his hands off the console.

“What is it?” Michael asked.

He looked up with a tiny smile. “It’s done, sir. The subspace rupture is stable for now.”

Xylion continued to study the data. “Confirmed, sir. But it is showing signs of degradation. According to my calculations, it will remain stable for approximately one hour and eleven minutes.”

Bensu shook his head. “I think this is the best I can do. And I’m not sure I would be able to do it again if I tried,” he said. “This might be the only chance we’ve got.”

Michael shot the man a blank expression. He already knew better than to ask for an explanation considering how little he had been able to provide so far. Besides, their clock had just become a lot tighter. “When this is all over, we’ll need to have a long chat, Mister Bensu,” he said and then stepped away.

“Deck thirteen is fully evacuated. Force fields are in place,” Leva said.

Michael nodded and walked up right beside him until he was standing at the tactical board. He looked down and found the command panels to activate a channel to theAgamemnon.

Amaya reappeared on the screen. “We are still reviewing your data. Do you have your diagnostic results yet?” she asked.

“No, but we have something better. We have been able to create the subspace rupture. Right here on Eagle.” As odd as it sounded to say it, he had to admit that he took just a moment’s worth of pleasure from her confused expression, considering her recent demeanor.

“That’s impossible.”

“Feel free to run your own scan. We have a stable subspace rupture on deck thirteen.”

She consulted with Daystrom on her bridge for a moment before they both turned to look at him with stunned expressions. “How?”

He suppressed a little smirk, after all, he wasn’t quite so sure himself. “Let’s just say we had some unexpected help. I’ll explain everything in due course but we don’t have much time. The rupture will only remain stable for just a bit over one hour and we may not be able to recreate it once it is gone. We need to act now. I suggest you sent us the specifications for that personal shield module.”

She emphatically shook her head. “You aren’t prepared to enter the subspace portal. I have a team in place which has trained for this.”

“Think this through, Maya. By the time you and your team get here, that portal is long gone. If we want to do this, we need to do it now. Send me the specs and we replicate it. Then I will lead a team to make contact with the aliens. And the longer we hesitate, the less time we have to make this work at all. This might be our only chance at this.”

She stared back at him, clearly not having expected this turn of events. Of course, then again, nobody had. “I don’t like this. I don’t like it at all.”

“That would make two of us.”

Then she nodded slowly and entered a few controls into a nearby computer station. When Michael glanced back down at the tactical board, he could see that they had received a data package from the Agamemnon.

“We’re heading your way at maximum warp,” she said and gave the order to her helmsman.

“Send me everything you have on this subspace domain. You had weeks to prepare for this. I’ll have minutes.”

“It’ll be with you shortly.”

“I’ll see you when I get back,” he said. “Owens out.”

Once she had disappeared from the screen again he turned to consider his science officer. “Commander, we don’t have much time. Get a team together and outfit them with the personal shield. Have them meet us on deck thirteen. We’ll enter the rupture as soon as we are ready.”

“Understood. However, it is my duty as acting first officer to remind you that it is in violation of Starfleet protocol for you to lead a potentially hazardous away mission.”

Michael smirked despite himself, wondering if Amaya's first officer had quoted her with the exact same regulation. "We don't have a choice in this matter," he said. "I am the only person onboard fully briefed on the situation," he added, even if, in truth, he wasn't entirely certain how well exactly he had been briefed on this mission, considering that it should never have been him or his crew who were expected to enter into subspace. But then, of course, adapting to changing circumstances was as much part of the job as keeping an open mind about the strange and unexpected. "And I will need you on the team as well, which means, Mister Leva, you are in charge while we're gone."

“Yes, sir,” the tactical officer said.

Bensu had stood from the science station in the meantime. “Sir, may I request that I accompany you as well?”

“Absolutely not,” Leva said, without hesitation.

“I believe it is critical that I do.”

Michael looked first at Bensu and then at Xylion who once again remained stone-faced. “Ordinarily I would have to agree with Mister Leva on this but it looks as if ordinary has just gone out of the airlock.”

“Sir,” Leva protested.

Michael simply clasped him on the shoulder. “Open mind, remember,” he said. “Now, let’s get going. Taking a stroll into subspace wasn’t exactly on my to-do list when I got up this morning. The sooner we get this done, the sooner we are going to get some answers,” he said as he headed towards the turbolift with Xylion and Bensu following close behind.
Part Four: Charybdis - 2 by CeJay
2


To his credit, he had considered making his case to Tazla Star again, even if he was fairly certain what the outcome might be. In fact, he had sought her out again, finding her back in the small office of the medical facility and speaking to Lif Culsten who apparently had only just returned from the city.

He hadn’t known exactly what they had been discussing, but it appeared to him that it was important to Star since she had glared at him angrily when he had interrupted them and made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that she was not interested in another confrontation with him and that her focus was on the young Krellonian for now.

It suited Elijah just fine. After all, he had already made up his mind that he’d be going through with his plan with or without her blessing. The latter, he figured, actually would make the execution much easier.

“I don’t think this is such a great idea,” said Louise Hopkins as she followed him and Deen inside the Nebuchadrezzar. “The city is supposed to be off-limits.”

“Cleary not,” countered Elijah who had already exchanged his uniform, which he rarely if ever wore as to regulation specs anyway, for civilian garb, most notably a large and heavy coat with a deep hood, designed not only to keep him warm in the cold climate but also to hide his very un-Krellonian ears. “Considering that Mister Culsten has only just returned from that same city.”

The chief engineer looked unconvinced. “I don’t think that’s quite the same as you visiting the city. He is Krellonian after all,” she said but found him unimpressed by her argument while he collected and looked over a medical tricroder he meant to take with him. She glanced over towards Deen instead to find an ally to her argument.

But she just shrugged. “He outranks us both. I suppose he could order us to help him.”

Elijah looked up after he had secured the medical device and then shook his head. “I am not,” he said. “But I will go through with this either way. The only lead we have in fighting this virus is in that city and I mean to find it. You two are under no obligation whatsoever to help me. But I will say this. If you don’t, I will go through with this anyway and I am not exactly all that confident anymore with how those blasted transporters work. If I had to operate them by myself, there is a fairly good chance I’ll beam myself right inside a wall or some such thing.”

Hopkins gaped at him. "Great, so my options here are to either face the wrath of Commander Star or be potentially responsible for you accidentally atomizing yourself."

He grinned.

“I could probably get you into the city,” said Deen, “but it would likely not go unnoticed.” She looked at Hopkins. “I know you were given the access codes to the local transporter net in order to beam Lif into the city. It wouldn’t be difficult at all for you to get him in without raising any alarms.”

Hopkins sighed. “Yes, I suppose I could.”

“Excellent,” said Elijah with another large smile. “Time’s a wasting, let’s get to it.” He stepped into the runabout’s small transporter alcove and raised the hood of the heavy coat over his head.

“I would be more comfortable if you’d let me accompany you, Doctor,” Deen said as she watched him take position.

But he quickly shook his head. “Let’s not make this worse than it is already. Miss Hopkins is quite correct, Taz won’t be happy about this once she finds out. I can handle her ire, but I don’t mean to put you into that position.”

Hopkins walked over the controls. “As if she won’t know that you had help.”

“You can always claim that I sweet-talked you into doing this,” Elijah said. “I would have you know that I was quite the charmer in my younger days.”

Hopkins stopped and looked up at him with a blank expression. "No offense, Doctor, but that argument will definitely not stand up at my court-martial."

“Must have lost a step or two over the years,” he mumbled to himself.

Deen smiled at him and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Just one or two?” she continued before he could protest. “Good luck out there. And watch yourself. If you get into any kind of trouble, let us know and we’ll pull you out.”

He gave her an appreciative nod.

“All right, I think I've got it. The Paradise Quarter, was it?" said Hopkins.

“That’s right,” said Deen and joined her by the controls.

“Well, that’s nowhere near where Lif beamed to. Appears to be in the outskirts of the city,” the engineer said.

“Then that’s where I need to go,” he said and then knocked against the transporter bulkhead. “Energize this contraption whenever you’re ready.”

Deen and Hopkins exchanged a quick smirk and then Hopkins activated the controls. “Contraption being energized.”

Elijah had never fully enjoyed the process of being broken down into subatomic parts, being shot across the ether and then being reassembled again in some other place altogether. Perhaps it was because of his medical background and his understanding of how delicate a living body truly was, and how much could go wrong with it. Or maybe he just didn't like the idea of entrusting a machine with knowing exactly how to dissolve a human being, and more importantly, how to put one back together.

He preferred the old-fashioned way of transportation using shuttles and other vehicles which didn’t depend on deconstructing a person to get them from point A to point B. He did, however, appreciate that sometimes transporters were enormously practical, such as when you needed to get somewhere quickly without anybody else finding out about it.

He wasn’t entirely sure what to expect once he arrived at his destination. What he realized straight away, however, was that the Paradise Quarter did not live up to its name at all.

He had materialized in a narrow alley between two not just old but clearly quite dilapidated buildings which looked as if they had not seen any kind of regular maintenance in his lifetime. There was an almost overpowering stench of garbage and sewage in the air and he was fairly sure he could hear overlapping sounds of people shouting and crying and a lot of banging sounds as if somebody was purposefully smashing pieces of metal together.

“Charming locale,” he muttered. “Must remember to book my next shore leave here.”

“Deen to Katanga.”

He felt the combadge he wore under his heavy coat vibrate slightly. He found it and tapped it. “Katanga here.”

"Doctor, did you arrive all right?"

“Surprisingly, I’m still in one piece. Right in the middle of Paradise.”

“What is that terrible noise?”

“It must be what goes on Krellon for popular music. Honestly, I’m not surprised they don’t have ears with all this dreadful commotion,” he said, even though he was quite aware that Krellonians picked up sound waves through the epidermis of their skin. However, after hearing this ruckus, he was wondering if perhaps they perceived sounds differently. He made a note to look into that once he had some more time on his hands.

“I’m glad you arrived safely, Doctor. I suggest you try to keep a low profile. We’ll have to keep comms to a minimum from now on if you wish to remain undetected. Once you’re ready to come back, just tap your combadge twice and we’ll hone in on your position and bring you back.”

“Thanks, Dee. Katanga out.”

After closing the link he set out by carefully walking down the ally and doing his best to breath through his mouth to try and avoid the awful smelling fumes lingering in the air.

The ally led to a wider street with fast-moving traffic. The skimmers raced left and right, hovering above the surface of the street and never slowed as if trying to get through this area as quickly as possible. He couldn't exactly blame the drivers.

The sidewalks looked pretty devoid of foot traffic. He spotted some individuals who were mostly moving with purpose, avoiding eye contact with each other and with the few people who were occupying makeshift dwellings made out of torn cloth or boxes.

Very few of the people he spotted were actual Krellonians. Instead, he saw lupine T'aq, like his reluctant patient back at the hospital, as well as Kridrips and reptilian Zel. He guessed that the majority of Krellonians were behind the controls of those skimmers racing by.

He pulled out his tricroder as inconspicuously as he could and ran a quick scan for signs of the infection. It came up negative.

He brought up an area map on his device instead and found the more specific area that Deen had learned had been the likely epicenter of the virus and headed out, keeping to the many, narrow alleyways and avoiding the larger thoroughfares.

He only realized that this approach had been a mistake after it was already too late. While there was much less traffic in the back alleys, he did draw more attention to himself in the narrow passageways and while he kept his human facial features well hidden under his hood, he couldn’t as easily disguise his alien gait.

“You don’t belong here,” the tall, lanky, and brown-scaled reptilian said who was blocking his path and made no move to step out of his way. “Who are you? I never seen you here before.”

“Just … passing through,” he said and cursed himself for not having come up with a better cover story for his presence. But then again, he was a doctor, not a spy.

“Yes. I am as well,” he said with a large grin which revealed a wide row of long and sharp teeth, many of which were crooked. “I am passing through myself. Have been passing through here for the last twenty cycles.”

“You must take to the locale then, I suppose.”

“Lovely place. Lots of soft, chewy humanoids.”

The alleyway didn’t offer many places to escape. The only choice he truly had was to turn back the way he had come from but one look at those powerful legs on the Zel told him that he would likely not make it five meters before he caught up.

“You look chewy.”
“I think you’d be rather disappointed,” said Elijah. “I am old and slow, don’t get as much exercise as I should and my diet has far too little carbohydrates and saturates to make for an appealing meal.”

The reptilian tilted his head sideways in confusion. Or maybe it was female, Elijah was entirely sure. What was clear, however, was that the creature didn't follow. He noticed something else. Its pupils looked dilated and discolored as if he was under the influence of some sort of substance. He had seen this before in Saurians and other reptile species.

The Zel made a threatening step closer, forcing Elijah to make one back. “You’ll make a decent little snack. And the fact that you are old means I don’t have to chase you much.”

Elijah hadn’t brought a phaser with him, didn’t believe in them. But he had something else and he searched for it under his coat as he spoke. “The other thing you should probably consider is that I’m not from around here. In fact, I’m not even from within the Alliance. Your metabolism won’t know what to make of me. You’ll probably have a miserable time digesting me for days. I expect some serious gastrointestinal distress. It might even kill you eventually,” he said and pulled his hood back to reveal his face.

There were other humanoids within the Krellonian Star Alliance, of course, but none looked quite like humans and the surprise was noticeable in the reptilian’s widened eyes.

“I like exotic food,” it finally snarled.

Elijah found what he had been looking for in his inside pocket and pulled out the hypospray. “Or you could have some of this,” he said.

“What is it?”

“A particularly potent drug called Syndicate-Y. Peddled mostly by the Orion Syndicate, not sure if you have heard of them. It guarantees a marvelous high which can last for hours, sometimes days. No other drug is known to have quite the same hallucinatory effect on the brain and the senses. In other words, it’s one hell of a trip.”

The Zel was immediately intrigued and stepped closer “I have heard stories of the Syndicate and their drugs.”

“In which case you really should get a taste, shouldn’t you?” Elijah said and then quickly brought up the hypospray and pressed it hard against the scales of its arm until the low hiss indicated the successful delivery of the agent.

The reptilian hissed angrily and struck out, hitting Katanga square in the chest. The blow of the impact lifted him up and pushed him hard into the nearby wall where he sagged down to the dirty ground.

“What have you done?” he snarled and approached Elijah threateningly.

“I’ve given you what you wanted,” he said as he tried to pull himself up onto a sitting position, fighting through the pain of his bruised body. “Right now, the Y is beginning to course through your veins and mixing with your cold blood. It’ll reach your higher brain function any second. Once it does, you’ll thank me.”

“I’ll bite your head off first,” he said and continued to approach.

Elijah couldn’t help but start wondering if he had miscalculated. After all, he knew little about the anatomy of the Zel and had only guessed based on other reptilian races he was familiar with. It was not out of the question that this particular one was immune to the effects of the drug he had administered. It would have been the last mistake he’d ever make.

“You think you are too clever,” he said.

“I’ve heard that one before.”

The Zel opened its wide mouth as it began to bend down.

Then it stopped.

“It usually starts with a tingling sensation in your fingers. Well, claws in your case.”

The Zel closed its yaw and brought up his claws, looking at them curiously.

“Next you’ll likely feel a little numb in your legs. That’s perfectly normal.”

He sagged a little bit as he took a step backward.

“And you’ll feel lightheaded.”

He reached up to grab hold of his large, scaled head.

Elijah picked himself up from the ground slowly. “You’d really want to sit down for this.”

The reptilian pretty much crashed down into a heap and looked up at Elijah who was now hovering above him. “What have you done?”

“You’ll thank me later.”

Then the Zel passed out.

“Particularly once you realize that the anetrizine compound I just gave you will give you the best sleep you’ve likely had in years. Mark my words, drugs are bad for you and will kill you eventually. Get some help,” he said and readjusted his coat, which had come slightly undone and pulled his hood back up. His bones ached terribly from the blow he had received and he was fairly certain he had bruised his sternum and his backside in the subsequent landing. “I’m getting too old for this.”

After a few minutes, he had left the napping Zel behind and had closed in on the area where the Krellonians had first discovered victims of the Piqus Plague.

Unfortunately, there wasn't much to find. The area was made up of what looked like large warehouses which had fallen into disuse. The few buildings he managed to gain access to seemed mostly empty.

His tricorder wasn’t much help either, finding no trace of anything that could lead him to a possible cause for the disease.

Left with little options, he found a lupine T'aq huddled in a corner, licking its dirty fur. Judging by the grayish pelt, he was advanced in years and likely not as much of a threat as the Zel had been. He hardly even reacted to Elijah stepping up to him and after a moment he thought he knew why his eyes were unnaturally white and glazed over.

“I’m looking for something and I was hoping you could help me find it,” Eli said.

The T’aq turned his snout up and tried to focus his eyes but seemingly to little effect.

“I’ve been told that people around this area got sick a little while ago. Do you know anything about this?”

But the lupine remained silent, considering Elijah with empty eyes.

“Maybe you’ve heard something?”

“This one hears things,” he said and then, as if everything on the subject had been said, returned to licking its pelt.

“What have you heard?”

“This one hears the crying and the shouting. It hears the wind howling and the ships buzzing.”

Elijah looked around for a moment to take in their surroundings. The shouting and banging were still noticeable even in this abandoned part of the Paradise Quarter. The howling winds had become so ubiquitous, he had almost started to tune it out. He couldn't see or hear any ships, however. He glanced back at the T'aq. "You've heard ships?"

“Every night this one heard the ships. Coming and going, coming and going, humming and buzzing. This one didn’t care for the humming and buzzing. It disturbed this one when it tried to sleep.”

“Are these ships still coming here?”

“This one doesn’t hear the buzzing anymore. This one sleeps now at nights. Undisturbed.”

He wondered how one could possibly sleep in this part of town at all without the help of a powerful anesthetic. “When did the ships stop coming here?”

“Five and ten nights. Maybe. Ten and ten nights. Maybe. After the soldiers came and took away those who did no longer walk. Quiet nights since then.”

“I guess, quiet is relative,” Elijah said. “But that might coincide with the beginning of the outbreak. And if those who fell sick came here on ships, perhaps this virus came from off-world. It may have been introduced to Piqus here but it could have originated elsewhere.”

The T’aq wasn’t paying any attention to his musings.

“These ships where did they land? Where was it the noisiest?”

The lupine pointed at one of the larger warehouses. “Stay away from that one, if you wish to sleep at nights. This one did.”

He had already attempted to enter the building that he had pointed out but he had found the only access door securely shut with no obvious way inside. There had been no windows or even cracks to get a glimpse at the interior either.

“Thank you, you were really quite helpful,” Elijah said and headed back towards that warehouse, beginning to round the entire building which was no easy task since it was quite expansive. If some sort of starships had landed here, it had to be sizable.

After searching for the better part of an hour, he finally found a possible way inside. But it would require to climb up a tall ladder and onto the roof a good twenty meters above.

He craned his neck back to look at the narrow ladder and tugged at a few of the rungs to make sure they would hold his weight. He uttered a heavy sigh. “I’m definitely getting too old for this.”

“I agree wholeheartedly.”

Elijah whipped around upon hearing the voice behind him to find a very angry Tazla Star standing just a few meters away flanked by two Starfleet security guards.

“And while I normally like to think that age is not a factor in keeping us from achieving our goals, I know for a fact that it should imbue us with the wisdom not to run off half-cocked on our own and disregard all orders and good prudence,” she said as she crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Then again, prudence has never been your strength, has it?”
Part Four: Charybdis - 3 by CeJay
3


It was not unlike if somebody or something, some deity or advanced and superior being, had ripped a hole right into the fabric of the universe itself, torn away, as it were, at the thin veneer that covered all of reality to lay bare the ugly and frightening innards of all of existence.

And space-time had been ripped open right in front of their eyes, in the middle of an otherwise unaffected and unexceptional section of starship corridor.

The fissure glowed and pulsed like an angry wound, only a meter or so of it was fully exposed, the rest of it vanished right into the bulkhead and was partially visible from the room that lay on the other side of the corridor.

The area inside the two-meter tall fissure, a mass of dark crimson and burnt orange swirled with no apparent pattern and with no indication whatsoever what awaited them beyond.

“And we are quite sure that this … thing … will lead somewhere?” So’Dan Leva said, almost to himself, as his eyes stayed focused on the unlikely anomaly which had appeared inside the ship and behind a couple of force fields which albeit stable, he was beginning to have serious doubts would be powerful enough to protect the rest of Eagle from whatever this fissure could do if it decided to expand.

“Yes.”

He glanced over to Bensu who looked even more mesmerized by the rupture and refused to let it out of his sight for even a moment.

The captain, standing nearby, seemed more fascinated by a padd he had been studying and which he believed contained a brief they had received from the Agamemnon only shortly after Owens had made the call to enter the fissure himself. It had been marked eyes-only so he had not seen the content.

Also present where four of the Special Mission Team operatives which they had only recently brought onboard for exactly these kind of missions. The team was made up of their second-in-command who went by the moniker Diamond, a tall, muscular and dark-skinned woman who looked strong enough to give him a run for his money. He couldn’t recall the odd names the others went by; a blue-skinned and short-haired Andorian male, a Vulcan woman with an exceptionally dark complexion and a mean-looking Nausicaan who stood taller than anyone else present. All four of them appeared dangerous as did their decidedly non-standard issue weaponry they were currently in the process of checking over. And as if they didn’t stand out enough already, none of them wore proper Starfleet uniforms.

Interestingly, none of them seemed the slightest bit fazed by the anomaly as if encountering a subspace fissure was an everyday occurrence for them. So'Dan was fairly confident that this was not the case.

The final member of the away team was science officer Xylion who was finishing up calibrating his tricorder for whatever he expected to find on the other side.

So’Dan turned to the captain. “Sir, I know we have covered this already, but I feel like I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t try at least one more time to talk you out of going in there yourself.”

Owens handed him the padd, clearly having finished with it. Leva quickly noticed that he had already wiped the content. "I can see that your stint as first officer has had an effect on you," he said and offered a smirk. "Which is good as it makes me more comfortable about leaving Eagle in your excellent care. But my mind is made up on the issue. It’ll have to be me, I’m afraid.”

He knew when an argument was lost. “Understood, sir. I guess I don’t have to remind you to be extremely careful.”

“I’m sure our new friends have this part covered.”

Diamond said nothing but the woman offered a marginal nod.

So’Dan didn’t doubt their capabilities and yet somehow he couldn’t help wish that it was Nora Laas who was accompanying the captain instead. His Bajoran friend and security chief had made a name for herself in protecting the captain over the years.

Hearing somebody approach from behind, he turned to see Alendra coming jogging down the corridor with two crewmen in close pursuit, all of them carrying armbands of some sort.

They came to a stop in front of the group. The young Bolian was briefly distracted by the unusual sight of the pulsating rift in the corridor just a few meters ahead before she turned to Owens. “We’ve just finished replicating the personal shields. According to the instructions from Agamemnon, these will need to be configured precisely or you will not be able to withstand the pressures in subspace for long. And even with these devices, you’ll have less than an hour before you’ll be forced to return.”

“That's just enough time until the fissure destabilizes again,” he said as she began to attach the first device onto his right upper arm. He glanced at the armband as it hummed to life. "Were you able to test them?"

“Not as much as I would have liked,” she admitted. “We know they work and theoretically should keep you reasonably well protected. But a lot of this is guesswork since we are not entirely sure what you will encounter on the other side of the anomaly.”

“A risk we’ll have to take,” said Owens and watched her finish calibrating the armband and then activate the shield which briefly flickered around him, covering him from head to toe in a nearly skintight energy envelope.

She then moved on to Xylion while the two other crewmembers did the same for the SMT operatives and Bensu.

“Are we ready?” Owens said once all had been fitted, looking over the rest of the team.

Everyone responded in the affirmative.

“Very well,” he said. “Mister Leva, your first priority is to keep the crew safe. Keep a close eye on the fissure. If it threatens to expand in any way, putting Eagle in danger, I want you to get this thing off my ship by any means necessary. Even if we are not back yet.”

He didn’t like the order, but he understood the necessity. “We’ll jettison this entire section if we have to.”

Michael nodded in agreement and then turned to look at the fissure. “Computer drop the force field immediately in front of me.”

The computer acknowledged with soft trill and the force field flared briefly before it vanished.

Owens and the others stepped closer to the anomaly carefully. Then the captain looked back at Leva.

He nodded. “Computer, re-establish the first force field.”

It snapped back into place immediately.

“Time to see where this rabbit hole takes us,” Owens said and to Leva’s chagrin took point as he was the first man to step into the fissure, disappearing from the ship. The remaining six members of the team followed him with no hesitation.

“When you asked me to come join you on Eagle you never told me I had to face reality-bending nightmares such as this,” said Alendra as she kept her eyes on the vanishing away team.

“Welcome aboard, Lieutenant,” said So’Dan as he watched Bensu disappear last. “Reality-bending nightmares are just another Tuesday afternoon around here.”




* * *





Michael hadn’t been sure what to expect when leaving behind their realm and step inside one entirely foreign to him and those others like him; carbon-based lifeforms who dwelled solely in a universe with well-established laws of physics.

It was an immediate assault on all his senses all at once.

Bright, pulsing lights robbed him of his sight as soon as he had stepped through the fissure, unable to make out almost anything around him. A high-pitched screech, like the sound of an entire flock of dying birds, drilled deep into his brain, making it near impossible to focus on anything. It was hopeless to even try and define the odors he perceived, clearly beyond anything he had ever experienced before. More importantly, however, he found it extremely difficult to breathe, as if he was swallowing gulps of bitter tasting liquids with each breath he took.

He thought he perceived somebody at his side but struggled to make out any features. Whoever it was reached for the band around his upper arm and he was far too dazzled by his stunted senses to offer any form of resistance.

Then, slowly, things began to normalize. His vision began to clear up and he was beginning to make out the clear shapes of objects and people around him. The persistent high-pitch tone lessened until it faded to little more than background noise, and his breathing, which had threatened to become panicked with the prospect of slowly suffocating to death, slowed as his lungs began to fill with much-needed air, even if it still left a foul taste in his mouth. Considering the alternative, he gobbled it down greedily.

He was finally able to make out Xylion who had apparently stepped up to him to reconfigure his personal shield. "I have recalibrated the phase variance of the force field in an attempt to mitigate the effect of the subspace environment on our carbon-based organisms. We will still experience a level of disorientation due to an absence of carbon in this dimension, but it should allow us to operate for a limited time in this realm."

It was still odd watching Xylion, who stood less than a meter away from him speak. His mouth moved but his words didn’t seem to register until a few microseconds after, causing his lip movements to be noticeably out of sync with his voice. When Michael tried to nod to acknowledge what he had said, his head felt heavy; the sensation of each movement greatly exaggerated. “It definitely helps. But I’d rather not stay here a moment longer than we have to,” he said, his voice sounding distorted and alien to his own ears. Moving very slowly, he turned to consider the rest of his team.

Two of the Niners, the Andorian who went by Boom, and the team leader Diamond seemed most affected. Grunt was on all fours already, slowly shaking his head, while Diamond had dropped on one knee with her head resting in one of her hands. The Nausicaan remained on his feet but the tall man was noticeably swaying while the Vulcan woman, Ivory, seemed to handle the strange environment slightly better, keeping fully upright but noticeably distracted.

Bensu, Michael was barely surprised to find, looked the least affected, studying their surroundings carefully and other than his much slower movements, he showed no signs that he was feeling the same effects he and the other team members experienced.

“Help the others,” Michael said to Xylion, he assumed that the Vulcan science officer had already made the necessary alterations to his own force field, since he moved fairly steadily as he began to tend to the rest of the team, even if to his eyes, every move he made looked slightly twisted, and he left behind a noticeable wake, almost like an after-shadow.

Satisfied that the team was being tended to, Michael took a few steps forward himself, feeling almost immediate resistance from an unseen force. As an avid diver, he equated the sensation to swimming through a particularly dense ocean on an alien world.

The strobing bright lights had been replaced by a dull crimson and orange glow which seemed prevalent here, like a veil covering every square meter of this world. The fissure had led them into what looked like a windowless room with a high ceiling and unremarkable walls which had visibly protruding conduits and tubing.

Most interesting perhaps was the floor which seemed to consist of a bright, bluish walkway constructed of a solid but transparent material. Michael guessed either force fields or some form of hard light. These light bridges didn’t always extend all the way to the walls and had no handles or railings. He could see no floor underneath, just a dark empty void which gave him a sense of vertigo the longer he looked at it.

Bensu walked passed Michael and further into the room, looking around carefully before his eyes wandered back towards his.

“Does this place look familiar to you?” Michael asked. “Have you been here before?”

He seemed to ponder that question for a moment but his face only mirrored confusion. “I cannot be certain.”

Michael noticed that Xylion had seen to the Niners who were now all back on their feet again. “I don’t care for this place,” grunted Boom as he was slowly trying to get used to his surroundings.

“Agreed,” said Michael. “Let’s try to do what we came here for and get out as soon as possible.”

“What exactly, if I may ask, are we here for, sir,” Diamond said. She sounded almost defiant, or perhaps it was the way her voice echoed oddly in this place. Either way, Michael was sure she was not used to speaking to superior officers, which was hardly surprising since the Niners usually didn’t tend to split up and she was likely more comfortable following their team leader than a starship captain she barely knew.

Michael had to acknowledge that he had given them very little information about their mission, partially because of the strict operational security Jarik had insisted upon, but also because there had been little time for a mission brief, considering the circumstances. “This area of subspace is inhabited by a race of beings which we believe are planning an invasion into our realm. This is a reconnaissance mission. We are to learn whatever we can about their plans, either by capturing data or obtaining intelligence directly from these aliens.”

To her credit, Diamond seemed entirely unfazed by learning about a possible invasion and simply offered a nod. “What’re our rules of engagement?”

“We are here to reconnoiter only. That means we are not to directly engage these aliens unless we have no other choice. Ideally, they never even knew we were here.”

The Nausicaan uttered a rough sounding chortle to this.

It was Boom, the Andorian who put a finer point to it. “Best laid plans.”

Diamond was not having this. “Stow it, people,” she barked. “This is the kind of thing we do. If the captain wants us to be ghosts, we’re ghosts. Facta, non verba.”

“Facta, non verba,” the others repeated quietly. Ivory, the Vulcan seemed to barely mouth the words.

Xylion pointed towards the only visible door. "I propose we set out in that direction."

Michael nodded and looked at the lead Niner. “Take point.”

Diamond for her part delegated the task to Ivory who raised her compact phaser rifle, which barely resembled the Starfleet-issue carbine it seemed to be based on, and moved out without a word. Diamond followed, then Xylion, Michael, and Bensu with the remaining two operatives taking up the rear.

Ivory managed to open the door quietly, using a surprising amount of strength her trim figure did not reveal she possessed, and the team slipped through the gap she had created.

Beyond the initial room, they found a corridor which split into three directions, each one lined with a narrow walkway which was also the main source of light. The Vulcan glanced back at him to be given instructions.

“I am having difficulties adapting the tricroder to this environment,” Xylion said when Michael considered him.

Michael picked a random direction and the team continued on.

The walls and high ceilings didn’t change much from what they had seen initially. There were markings and alien script decorating some parts but nothing Xylion’s tricorder was able to translate.

Michael couldn't be sure, and certainly, his senses were barely reliable in this bizarre environment, but had he been back in their home dimension, he would have thought that they had arrived on a ship or space station of some kind.

The team moved single-file down the corridor since there wasn’t much room on the light bridge, as expected the Niners moved quietly and alertly even through the dense atmosphere which made every step slow and awkward.

Michael could see the end of the corridor up ahead and shortly before they reached it, Ivory slowed and then finally stopped, taking a knee and holding up her fist. She had spotted something. She quickly relaid her findings to Diamond who joined him to give a report. "There is a larger room ahead," she whispered. "At least two individuals inside. Possibly three."

“Let’s have a look,” he said and then set out slowly, along with her, Xylion and Bensu to get as close as possible to the edge of the room without being noticed. All three took turns to glance into the room.

On his first attempt, Michael could spot two individuals, tall and dressed in long, silvery robes with deep hoods covering their heads. Both had their backs turned towards him making it impossible to see any faces. They seemed to utter soft clicking noises which could have been an alien language.

“One of the aliens is working on what appears to be a computer console,” said Xylion quietly after he had spied into the room. “We might be able to extract information from that device.”

“Worth a try. But we would need to get rid of the aliens first,” said Michael.

“They are not expecting an attack,” Diamond said. “We should be able to neutralize them quickly.”

But Bensu shook his head. “You have no idea if and how your weapons will work here, or what kind of effect they may have on these aliens.”

“We may not need weapons,” said Michael after he had ventured another look, noticing both aliens walking, or rather waddling, towards a far exit and leaving the room.

“That’s convenient,” said Diamond after she had verified what he had seen.

“It’s an opportunity,” he said, “Let’s move.”

Diamond took the lead this time and slipped inside with the butt of her modified combat rifle resting against her shoulder as she swept the room. The others followed.

Not a moment after he had stepped into the room, Michael heard urgent clicking sounds coming from somewhere behind him.

Ivory reacted quicker than anyone else, whirling around with impressive speed and delivering a direct strike against the alien’s head with the stock of her rifle. To Michael the whole thing was nothing more than a blur, until the creature tumbled out of the shadows, stumbling at first before collapsing onto the floor.

Diamond was already instructing her people to secure the only two entrances to the room as she and the others assembled around the fallen alien. Its hood had fallen back slightly to allow them their first proper look at it.

Michael had seen images of these beings from the intelligence package Jarik had made available and which had come from Starfleet’s only previous encounter with this race seven years prior, but seeing one close-up was no comparison.

The creature looked reptile, almost insectile, with clearly purplish and scaly skin, a spiky ridge traveling from its flat nose all the way up its face and head and two large, bulging round eyes with deep, dark and soulless cavities at their center. He couldn’t entirely suppress a shudder at seeing this nightmarish-looking creature, even if he wasn’t proud of this reaction to encountering an alien life form.

Diamond had taken a knee next to it and was studying the creature more closely. “One ugly bastard all right. And I cannot say if it is alive or dead.”

“It’s still alive,” said Bensu which earned him a few blank looks, none of which he seemed to notice.

“Keep an eye on it,” Michael told Diamond. “We'll see what we can learn from the computer console they were working on.”

The woman stood back up and leveled her rifle at the incapacitated alien while he, Xylion and Bensu stepped away.

The first thing Michael noticed was the large, oval-shaped viewport in the room. Beyond it, he got his first look at what lay beyond. It was difficult, however, to say with certainty if they were on a planet, in space or some other environment altogether. All he could see through the window was a mass of swirling coral-colored something with occasional white streaks moving across it. He wasn't sure if he was looking at a form of matter, gas, or something else entirely.

He decided to focus on the freestanding, black and cylindrical shaped console instead which stood almost like a column, taking up the entire height of the room and which was half-embedded into the wall. The holographic control interface glimmered with a faint greenish light, hovering just above the otherwise blank and featureless panel.

Xylion had his tricroder out again. “I have been able to configure the tricorder to partially recognize our environment, however, I am not able to establish a data link with this console. However, I do detect an underlying current of an unknown energy pattern.”

“What is the nature of that pattern?” Michael asked

“Unknown. It does appear similar to certain forms of psionic energy.”

Michael didn’t miss Bensu staring at the console, his eyes taking on a focused look as if he was trying to concentrate on something. “Are you getting anything from this?”

Bensu didn’t respond straight away and then turned to consider him just as he was about to repeat his question. “There’s something here, of that there is no doubt. But — I can’t be sure what it is. I think we need to be very mindful of our next steps,” he said with noticeable uncertainty lacing his voice, he seemed reticent to even approach the device looming in front of him.

“We came here for a reason and we’ve got to start somewhere,” Michael said as he stepped closer to look over the holographic panels of the console, none of which, of course, told him anything. There was also a distinct lack of any kind of screen or output device, making him wonder how any of this was meant to function. He reached out for the controls gingerly, his fingers passing right through the holographic projection and he felt the surface of the console smooth and cold to the touch.

A sudden bolt, like a static shock, caused him to quickly withdraw his hand.

“Captain?” Xylion said.

“I’m fine, just a little charge of some—“

It had been more than that, he realized almost immediately as he felt himself stumbling backward suddenly and for no obvious reason. He heard voices he believed belonged to Xylion and Bensu but he couldn't make out what they were saying. His eyes focused on the viewport where the world outside had begun to expand into the room, quickly filling out his entire vision until there was nothing left but the coral-colored mass, having completely engulfed him. He felt the light bridge underneath him give way suddenly and he began to tumble into an endless void.

He saw images race passed him the way he had always imagined they would when a person was about to die, his own life, literally flashing in front of his eyes, offering him one last glimpse of his past before it would all disappear from his grasp forever.

He saw himself back home on Earth with his late mother who had passed when he had still been young. He saw Matthew his brother, who had lost his life years earlier. He saw Amaya smiling at him like she hadn’t done in some time. He saw his father still alive and well. He saw himself back in familiar surroundings on the bridge of Eagle.

But none of it, he quickly realized felt right. Because none of it had ever quite happened in the way he was seeing in those snippets. His mother looked older than she had been when she had died.

Matthew, too, looked quite different than how he remembered him, wearing his hair much longer than he had ever done when he had been alive. And he was with Westren Frobisher, the man who had been his brother's longtime friend and colleague and who had been responsible for his death and who had been killed years later when he had fallen off a precipice after he had attempted to change the past. In this vision, the two men were once again close and dear friends.

Amaya looked as lovely as always but she seemed to be practically glowing now as he held her in his arms, kissing her more passionately than he ever recalled doing with no sign at all of her recent aloofness.

That image of bliss lasted only mere seconds before it was replaced with one of outright horror, and every Starfleet officer’s greatest nightmare: The Borg. There were drones everywhere he looked, mercilessly inching closer from all directions until he was entirely surrounded. He screamed as he felt their injection tubes worming deep into his skin and releasing their deadly nanobots into his bloodstream until he felt himself turning into a cyborg from the inside out.

His vision blinked out for a moment and when the light returned, all he could see was a massive, ring-shaped structure, spinning slowly like a wheel, creating a headache-inducing vortex.

The massive head of the alien being emerged from the eye of the maelstrom, its dark, dead eyes flaring with sudden bright and blinding light until his world turned into bleak, white nothingness.

"Captain, are you all right?"

He heard the voice somewhere in the back of his head and couldn’t be sure if it was still part of the visions or if it was real.

When he felt a hand on his shoulder, he opened his eyes to see Bensu and Xylion hovering above him. He was lying flat on his back on the smooth light bridge which apparently had never stopped functioning. He raised his arm to grab the hand Xylion was holding out for him. The Vulcan easily lifted him back onto his feet. “What happened?”

“You appear to have been affected by the physical contact with the device. You lost your balance and fell. You were also unconscious for five point three seconds.”

“Felt much longer than that.”

“You saw something,” said Bensu.

Michael shook his head, trying to clear his head of the cobwebs which were still clinging to his mind. “I think so. They were visions of some sort. Of my life but also … not.”

Xylion briefly considered the device again. “It is possible that the console operates by creating a telepathic link with its operator. Since humans and other carbon-based lifeforms are likely not compatible with this technology, you may have experienced hallucinations instead.”

“Maybe,” Michael said. “Or maybe it did work and it showed me things that are real.” He recalled Jarik mentioning a subspace portal that he believed the aliens were building to allow them to invade into their space. The ring-shaped structure and the vortex it had created certainly fit that bill. “If that’s true, I think I may know how they plan on carrying out their invasion.”

Bensu didn’t look as convinced. “Xylion is right. What you have experienced might not have been visions at all. For all we know they could be random images generated by your subconscious mind. Or some other anomaly created by your contact with alien telepathic technology. It might be best not to draw definite conclusions from what you’ve seen.”

Xylion offered a brief nod. “I agree. We have no way of verifying what you experienced is in fact based on reality.”

Michael knew that they were both right, and yet something he couldn’t quite explain told him that those hadn’t been just random images spawned by his mind like a fever dream. He also understood that he needed to see more before he could even hope to begin to understand anything he had experienced. “Commander, perhaps we can try a more controlled approach via a mind-meld. We could attempt to link with the device using you as some sort of buffer.”

“I would not recommend such an approach,” Xylion said immediately.

Michael didn't have time to consider it further either since Boom was hissing an urgent warning from the far entrance he was guarding. "We are about to have company."

Michael could already hear the clipping noises drawing nearer. The aliens were returning, perhaps trying to find out what had happened to their fallen comrade.

“And this time, it’s a crowd.”

Michael was momentarily torn between trying to get more answers and avoiding an all-out conflict with the locals. The safety of his team easily won out the argument. “Let’s get out of here,” he said but pointed at the unconscious creature Diamond was still guarding. “But we’re taking that one with us.”

Xylion stepped up to the downed alien and easily picked up the robed creature to carry it over his shoulder. Not a moment later the team set out, retracing their steps and returning the way they had come, this time at a much more rapid pace.

The clicking noises pursuing the team were still closing in, increasing in speed and urgency and soon Michael thought he could hear the ghastly sounds coming not just from behind him but from every angle.

“Let’s move,” he said, trying to spur on his team. “We need to get out of here now.”

“Not so easy when trying to walk through molasses,” said Boom, showing his frustration at the slow progress they were making due to their environment.

Michael could feel it too, the faster they were trying to move the tougher the resistance seemed to be. Even Xylion, who additionally had to contend with the alien he was carrying, was beginning to show signs of exhaustion. Only Bensu, it appeared, remained unaffected, having since taken over point from the Vulcan woman who had been leading them previously.

By the time they reached the three-way junction, Michael was entirely out of breath and felt increasingly disoriented by those popping sounds, unable to tell if they were coming from behind or the front.

The SMT team instinctively moved to secure the three passageways while Michael and Xylion moved to the door which would lead them back towards the fissure. Unfortunately for them, the gap Ivory had created only a few minutes prior was now closed again.

Michael tried his hands on pushing it open but struggled to move the heavy panel until Bensu stepped up to help him.

The clicking and popping were now so loud and noticeable, Michael was certain one of the aliens had to be standing right behind him. He turned just in time to see one of the cloaked figures emerge from the corridor on the far right and strike out with a tall, staff-like weapon and striking the Nausicaan standing closest right across the chest.

The massive man flew backward from the force of the impact only to go smashing into the far wall with a painful groan. Michael sprung forward and reached him before he could go over the edge of the light bridge.

The other operatives responded by opening fire on the alien with their phaser rifles, striking it once, twice, three times before it dropped to its knees.

From another corridor, another creature emerged, holding another staff. It thumped it loudly onto the floor, creating a powerful shockwave which flattened the remaining Niners and pushed both Michael and Bensu against the door.

Diamond managed to squeeze off a shot with her rifle even as she tried to get back onto her feet, but the beam did little more than cause the creature to stumble.

“Go, go,” Michael shouted and reached out for Grunt, the Nausicaan, picking him up and pushing him towards the small gap in the door.

Clambering back onto their feet the remaining operatives followed suit, as did Xylion and Bensu.

Michael could see the pulsating fissure just ahead, mere meters away now. He couldn't tell if it was his imagination, or if something had happened to the dense atmosphere, but the closer he got to it, the harder it became to move as if something was trying to actively hold him back from reaching their only escape route.

Two more robed figured appeared between the team and the fissure where none had been a moment before.

The first brought up its staff and without thinking, Michael grabbed it between its claw-like hands, trying to either wrestle it away from it or stop it from using it on the team.

What he hadn’t factored in, however, was the alien’s much greater physical strength, or perhaps it was merely the fact that it could move within this atmosphere with far more speed and alacrity. Whatever it was, Michael felt himself being lifted off the floor as the creature raised the staff higher, and then with a quick sideways jerk, causing him to lose his grip and fly across the room and hit the wall with such force, he felt all the air bursting out of his lungs.

Through half-open eyes, he watched the rest of the team trying to take on the aliens with little success.

Diamond landed another hit with her phaser which was easily absorbed before the staff struck her across the side of her head with enough force to send her tumbling to the ground.

Ivory used her own weapon to deflect a strike from the other creature, but when it took a second swipe at her, with more force, the rifle went flying out of her hands. She tried to duck underneath the third strike but wasn't fast enough to avoid getting struck across her back when the alien pulled its swing back towards her a fourth time.

Boom and Charm combined their attack on the first alien, the two phaser blasts forcing it onto its knees before the other creature unleashed another and more focused beam from its staff which instead of traveling in a straight line, actually zigzagged across the room to down both operatives.

Bensu appeared behind the alien out of seemingly nowhere and struck it hard in the back of its right leg. Even before it lost its balance, he snagged the staff out of its claw and swung it in a wide arc, hitting the other creature, still on its knees, across its hooded head with enough strength to cause it to fall over.

He managed to hit the first alien with the same sweeping motion of its staff, making it stumble further even if it ultimately managed to keep its balance. But now without a weapon, the alien faced Bensu wielding its own staff.

Michael watched as Bensu didn’t hesitate and pushed the dull end of the rod right into the creature’s left shoulder. It hadn’t looked like a violent attack, and yet the alien’s uttered an ear-splitting shriek, grabbing the staff with its claws, trying to dislodge it. Bensu kept up until the alien sagged to the floor and only then let go of the rod.

Xylion stepped up to Michael, still carrying the unconscious alien they had captured, and yet still managed to reach out for him as well and pull him back on his feet. In the meantime, it was a real effort for Michael to try and ignore his aching body. "Through the fissure, now."

The team didn't need to be told twice. The two aliens had been downed but judging by the still prevalent clicking and popping noises all around them, many more were right behind those.

Bensu helped a couple of SMT operators on their feet, all of them injured or bruised, still, they managed to limp their way to the fissure, supporting each other's weight.

Michael watched them all disappear, one after the next. Xylion urged him to go next but Michael simply shoved the Vulcan and his captive into the fissure instead. Once he was satisfied that he was through, he turned around to see Benu still lingering behind. “Come on, let’s go.”

Bensu walked up towards him and the fissure but came to a sudden halt just a few steps in front of him.

“What’s the matter?”

Bensu tried to turn around but it was too late.

Michael saw his eyes opening wide like saucers and then he heard the sound of something crushing through skin and bone until the sharp end of a staff came bursting through Bensu’s torso.

Just over Bensu’s shoulder, Michael could see a kneeling creature holding on to the other end of the staff.

The door opened wide and a dozen or so more cloaked aliens were streaming into the room, their collective clicking sounds urgent and overlapping and almost deafening now.

Michael reached for Bensu's shoulders and then stumbled backward, losing his balance but also pulling the impaled man with him as his body slipped off the staff lodged inside him.

Michael allowed gravity to do most of the work as he fell into the fissure behind him, refusing to let go of Bensu but already certain that any help awaiting them on the other side would come far too late to save him.
Part Four: Charybdis - 4 by CeJay
4


“What the hells were you thinking?” Star said, fuming, which had been an all too frequent mood of hers as of late when confronting her long-time friend. She couldn't deny a measure of anger at herself as well for not having anticipated such a foolhardy move from the infamously stubborn physician sooner, after all, he had all but declared his intentions to her, but she had been too busy dealing with Lif Culsten and his first contact with his high-ranking government agent aunt to focus on what Katanga might or might not do.

She had suspected something was the matter once she had noticed the suddenly evasive, almost guilt-ridden attitude of Louise Hopkins which had prompted her to try and locate Katanga unsuccessfully. The young woman may have been a naturally gifted engineer but she was a terrible liar and hadn’t held up ten seconds under Star’s questioning, quickly revealing that she had beamed the doctor into the city.

“I was thinking that somebody needed to take the initiative since nobody else was willing to act,” he said defiantly, crossing his arms as he stared her down from where he stood.

“By disregarding orders and possibly putting our entire mission here into jeopardy?”

“Our mission here was already in jeopardy. The mission of trying to find a cure for this epidemic that is. Of course, you wouldn't have noticed with your entire focus dedicated to whatever cloak-and-dagger operation you're running behind the scenes.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said, trying to deflect with anger.

It didn’t work. “Oh please, you can play the indignation card as much as you want. But you forget, I’ve known you—Dez, that is—for a long time and I knew when he was up to something. I could see it in his eyes as much as I can see it in yours now.”

She took a few steps forward to shorten the distance between them and also to put some between her and her security entourage. “My indignation is not an act, Eli,” she said through clenched teeth. As a former intelligence officer—a good one, she liked to think—she was naturally concerned that he had been able to intuit her more clandestine mission by nothing more than her body language. “You have crossed a line here.”

“I can see that you think that,” he said. “Clearly I’m such a threat you’ve brought an entire security detail to apprehend me. Tell me, what was the plan? Are you going to have me shot and dragged back in irons?”

“You have no idea how appealing of an idea that sounds to me just about now,” she said but then relented slightly and turned around to regard her escort. She closed in on the higher-ranking one of the two, the Caitian junior lieutenant. “T’Nerr, return to base, I’ll handle this myself.”

The Caitain nodded and he and his partner turned away and contacted the facility to be beamed back.

Star hadn't thought she needed back up to bring the Katanga back, but she had hoped that the show of force would drive home how serious she considered his transgression. She should've known better than that and that it wouldn't impress him much, and in truth, the additional Starfleet personnel only made the overall infraction of disregarding Administrator Chella's directives worse.

Once the security team had gone, she promptly whirled back around towards Katanga and quickly covered the distance between them, approaching him with long, determined strides, as if she was getting ready to throw down with him right here and now. She was satisfied to see him flinch briefly. “We’re going back, too.”

He regained his composure. “Not until I have some answers to my questions.”

“Don’t make me knock you on your ass,” she seethed. “Because trust me, I’m very close to doing just that.”

“If I had a slip of latinum for every time you’ve threatened me with that, I’d be rich enough to buy my own moon.”

“I’m not playing around here. You‘re in serious trouble.”

“Am I? How about you start telling me why you think whatever the hell you are up to is more important than potentially saving millions of lives? Maybe I’m in trouble with you and the captain and whatever imbecilic Starfleet regulations you think I’ve violated, but my conscious is clear. I am trying whatever I can to save these people. Can you say the same?”

She uttered a heavy sigh, clearly not in the mood of putting up with his self-righteousness. “Did it occur to you for even a minute that perhaps there are other and more significant stakes involved here than the fate of just one planet? Do you really think so little of me these days that you’re convinced that I make such arbitrary decisions to keep you from saving lives? For once in your life, can you just take a step back, get off your moral high horse and consider that not everything that happens revolves around you and your direct sphere of influence.”

“You have been a physician once,” he shot back promptly. “Dare I say, a halfway decent one even? You should know what a slippery slope it is to start worrying about hypothetical scenarios and big picture ideas in that profession. We have sworn an oath, to help those who need it, no matter what. You and the captain can debate wide-reaching implications as long as the cows come home, but I don’t have that luxury. I am not here for some sort of abstract agenda. I’m here to save lives, by any means necessary. No more and no less. I won’t be a doctor who loses sight of that like some others have done over the course of history. My name won’t appear next to your Mengeles, Ishiis or Mosets.”

Star rolled her eyes. “Don’t be so melodramatic.”

“Then don’t ask me to turn my back on the people that need my help.”

She slowly took in their surroundings. This part of the Paradise Quarter was fairly isolated, filled with decrepit and mostly abandoned looking warehouses. She had hardly seen another soul other than Katanga since she had beamed here. Ultimately her eyes once again landed on the intractable frown on his face. “What exactly makes you think you can find any answers here?”

His expression began to soften. “The witness I spoke to seems to think that ships regularly landed and took-off from within this building,” he said and pointed at the warehouse behind him.

“So? That’s hardly a smoking phaser.”

"Maybe not, but the fact that this quarter also appears to be the epicenter of this disease might be. What if this thing wasn't created here? What if it was brought to this place from off-world? This could give us the best clue yet in trying to figure out where this disease originated."

Star uttered another sigh as she looked up the building and the ladder leading up to the roof some fifteen stories above.

“We need to investigate this building and find out if there is a connection to the epidemic and these ships. I’ve already checked, there is no way to get into this building but we might be able to get access from the roof.”

“Ten minutes,” she said sternly. “Then we’re out of here.”

Katanga nodded and then turned to grab hold of the first rung of the ladder and began climbing.

Star looked after him with a scowl, then she followed him.

She could hear his exertion after just a few moments. “Are you sure you’re up for this? You’re not exactly—“

“Don’t tell me I’m old, I know that already,” he barked without slowing his pace. “Not everyone gets the luxury of being outfitted with a brand new body when their old one begins to fall apart.”

"For a physician, you have a surprisingly awful grasp on how the Trill work," she said.

“I know enough.”

"And you might want to start taking care of yourself a little better. This whole excursion of yours was not just foolhardy but also incredibly dangerous on your own," she said while cranking her neck back to look at him climbing above her.

“I can take care of myself just fine,” he said between labored breaths.

"Yes, I've seen that reptilian you took care off in that ally. You're lucky that worked out in your favor but that could have been you lying on the ground, passed out or worse."

“Less talking, more climbing,” he said and Star guessed not just to deflect from the topic but also to save his quickly fading strength.

If she had been by herself, she would have likely managed to reach the roof within a couple of minutes, but with Katanga leading, it took them nearly twice that long to get to the top. When Star stepped off the ladder, he was already sitting down on a heating unit, desperately trying to catch his breath again.

"Are you all right?" she asked.

“Peachy.”

She left it at that and began to look across the roof. There wasn't much to see, however. Save for a few, spread-out ventilation and heating devices, the roof was almost completely flat over its entire length. She certainly couldn't see any access points.

“There must be something here,” he said after he had found his breath again and was beginning to slowly explore the wide space. “An entrance hatch or something like that.”

But Star shook her head. “There is nothing here, Eli. This is a waste of time.”

“When exactly did you become this impatient?”

She turned on him. “Maybe it happened when one of my officers decided to ignore all orders and take-off on his own into restricted areas, nearly getting himself killed in the process.”

He shrugged, paying her little attention. Instead, he was staring at the roof by his feet "Maybe. But tell me, what is this?"

“What is what?” she said and joined him where he had slowly dropped onto his knees and was now carefully studying something on the roof. She quickly found what had aroused his interest. It looked like some sort of crease.

“This could be a way in,” he said as he traced it with his fingers.

“Could be,” she said. “But I doubt we’ll be able to open it easily.”

He looked up at her. “Why not?”

She pointed down the length of the roof which spanned nearly a hundred meters or so. He followed her outstretched arm and the crease which continued all the way down to the other end of the roof. He pulled himself back up onto his feet.

“Lend me your tricorder,” she said.

He pulled the device from under his cloak and handed it over. “It’s medical version.”

“I guessed as much. But if you know what you’re doing, it can be more than that,” she said as she flipped it over, opened a small flap and began to reconfigure some of its settings. Once she was satisfied, she closed it up again, turned it back right side up and activated the device. She began to scan her surroundings while slowly walking down the length of the groove. “Curious, I cannot scan the interior of the building, but this is definitely a retractable roof.”

“And a big one. Which means ships have been coming here. Probably landing inside,” he said.

She lifted the tricorder higher to get a better reading of the space above and around her. “I’m picking up significant trace elements of anti-gravitons and chemical residues consistent with thruster exhausts. Considering the high levels of saturation, I’d say this place has seen a lot of traffic. And not until that long ago.”

“So I was right. There were vessels coming here. Plenty of them,” he said.

“I'm also seeing evidence of what looks like impulse signatures.”

“What does that mean?”

She looked up from the tricorder. “The only reason you would need a vessel with an impulse drive within the atmosphere is to leave a planetary orbit.”

“We need to follow those signatures.”

She hated to admit it, but he was not wrong.
Part Four: Charybdis - 5 by CeJay
5


On Star’s urging, Lif had accepted Garla’s invitation to return to the city and visit her again after their initial meeting during which she had made clear that she had major designs to improve the status quo within the Star Alliance, even if she had been mum on the details.

The first officer had been intrigued and Lif had to admit that he was as well. She had hinted towards bigger plans before, weeks earlier when he and Louise had visited her on the homeworld, but back then he hadn’t given them much thought, had in fact been much more interested in leaving Krellon space behind as soon as possible instead, hopefully, for good. Things, of course, had not worked out that way.

This time he had no choice but being back here and he had resolved that if there was something that he could do to make his former home a better place for billions of people, he was at least going to try. Garla seemed to be the best chance of making this happen.

For his second visit, she met him not at her headquarters but right by the transporter station. In fact, she came up and greeted him the moment he had materialized. She wore a long dark coat and like most Krellonians lately, himself included, she wore a compact re-breather mask to protect herself from the pandemic sweeping this planet.

“Welcome, Lif. I thought we’ll take a little tour through the city today. Believe it or not, this is actually quite a mild day for Piqus.”

Considering the temperature was well below what Culsten would have considered comfortable and the blustering winds were still whipping through the streets, that was indeed difficult to believe.

Outside the transporter station, Garla and Lif were joined by an entire cadre of her people. They were not uniformed security forces, but Lif could tell that they wore weapons underneath their coats, and each one of those serious looking men and women appeared dangerous even without visible armaments.

“Piqus doesn’t strike me as a prime location for sightseeing,” he said as they set out down the street, walking side by side with Garla while her people formed a lose and inconspicuous perimeter around them.

She uttered a little laugh at that. “Certainly not. I know I would much rather be back in the Great River Lowlands. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t miss those majestic, emerald lands.”

“And yet you spent most of your days in these parts lately.”

She shot him a look, momentary suspicion dancing in her bright eyes. It vanished quickly. “As unappealing as this corner of the galaxy may be, it too is part of the Star Alliance. It may not be as significant as the core worlds but we cannot forsake it or its people because of its diminished role.”

“The plans you spoke of,” Lif said. “Are they tied to this place?”

She didn’t answer straight away as they continued to walk down the packed streets near the center of the city where Krellonians urgently went about their business.

“My plans will change everything, Liftu. They’ll transform not just this little speck but the entire Alliance.”

Before he could ask any more questions, he noticed an increasing commotion up ahead. People had begun to move noticeably faster and away from the area ahead.

Garla continued as if she hadn’t noticed. “This may not be the kind of glorious world our esteemed leaders like to discuss in the hallowed chambers of the Central Council or at parties catering to the rich and powerful, but it is a microcosm of the state the entire Alliance finds itself currently. What is happening here is happening everywhere across Krellon space.”

“Maybe,” he said, trying to get a better view of what was happening up ahead, as more and more people were beginning to flee the area, even as they still continued towards it. “I can’t believe though that this plague is helping things. Particularly if the rumors are true that the Outlanders are behind it.”

Garla stopped suddenly when she spotted a petite Kridrip woman in cheap and tattered clothing, a small child clinging to her chest, both looking around with anxiety and concern.

As far as Lif could tell, those two were among the very few Outlanders among the now rapidly thinning crowd here at the center of the city.

Garla had quickly grabbed the young woman by her arm, towering far above her, the Kridrip looked up at Garla with wide, fearful eyes. "This is not a good place for you to be right now," she said to her with a benign smile. She handed the woman some local currency. "Take this and head back that way. Keep going and don't stop until you are out of the area."

The woman took what she was given gratefully and then quickly followed Garla’s instructions.

Lif considered his aunt. “What is happening?”

She looked after the escaping Kridrip and her child a moment longer before turning back to him. “What has been happening here and in places like these all across the Alliance with far too much frequency in recent years.”

Lif looked back towards the commotion ahead and found that the crowd had cleared enough to reveal a large group of Outlanders, made up of humanoids, reptilians, lupines and even a few ursine, clashing with local security forces.

It wasn’t a pretty sight. It was violent on both sides and already a number of vehicles had been damaged, one had just been engulfed in flames. The security forces had quickly switched to deadly force, firing openly into the Outlander crowd which easily outnumbered them three to one. The Outlanders for their part showed little constraint either, using energy weapons and other more makeshift weapons like clubs and stones and anything else that could be thrown or swung against the authorities.

Lif felt like the entire thing was moving into their directly rather quickly. “I don’t think we should be here either.”

“Agreed,” said Garla, and pointed towards a side street. “We might be able to get out of their way.”

Their team promptly slipped into the smaller road to try and flee the swath of chaos and destruction which was heading into their direction.

“This is insanity,” said Lif, slightly out of breath after they had dashed towards their escape route. “I know there have been some incidents on the homeworld but when did it become this bad?”
“It’s been bad for a long time, Liftu. The signs were all there even before you left, your parents just did a very good job to isolate you from all of this.”

“But I don’t understand. The laws changed years ago. Things shouldn’t be like this anymore.”

Garla uttered a little, humorless laugh as they made their way down the road, the sounds of battle slowly receding behind them. "Changing laws is easy compared to changing the way people feel and think. We've kept the Outlanders as slaves for centuries, treated them no better than property. For a century after that, they had no rights to speak off and even today they are second-class citizens at best, most of them poor, many had turned to crime for a lack of opportunities. All that builds up resentment which over time turns into a powder keg."

“You think it will happen here, don’t you?” he said. “You think it will blow up right here on Piqus.”

“Not if I can help it.”

Almost as if out of nowhere, a dozen or so Outlanders, led by a couple of vicious and angry-looking lupines came streaming out of an alley and bearing down on Garla and her team, having apparently picked up the scent of the Krellonian group. They came at them screaming, shouting and hissing.

“That’s not good,” Garla said dryly and then urged her people to head them off, even if it was clear that they were entirely outmanned by the wave of the angry mob rushing towards them.

She reached into her coat and pulled out a phaser, thrusting it into Lif's hand before he could even object. "Go, that way," she said and pointed towards the direction they had been headed. "Take a left and a right, that should take you back towards the Eye building which will be secure. We'll hold them off. Hurry." She practically shoved him forward before she pulled out what looked like a baton from her coat and followed her men to confront the Outlanders.

Lif didn’t consider himself a coward but Garla had shoved him so hard, his momentum was already moving him away from the clash and he decided to keep going. While he may have been a fellow Krellonian, he also understood that he was here, essentially as a Starfleet officer, and as such he had to do whatever he could to try and stay out of strictly internal affairs. Star had made this very clear to him before he had set out to meet with Garla.

It couldn’t get any more internal than a civil war. From everything he had seen so far, this seemed to be exactly what was happening here. And if it wasn’t a full-blown war yet, it certainly had all the hallmarks of the beginnings of one.

Lif joined a throng of others, both Krellonians and also a few Outlanders who were running away from the chaos that was beginning to spread out from behind them. He did his best to follow Garla’s instructions, which had seemed simple enough, but the pushing and shoving of the people around him made it a challenge to stay orientated in this unfamiliar city, gusts of wind routinely flared up and forced him the wrong way until he found himself totally lost.

He stumbled into some sort of yard which was surrounded on all sides by high and unscalable walls. It was eerily quiet here, even the persistent winds didn't seem to reach this little, peaceful refuge.

A rare sight for this rather barren planet, the yard contained a small but lush green garden, with a handful of trees, a patch of grass and a little pond nestled right at its center.

Lif took a deep breath, seemingly for the first time since this sudden flare of violence had erupted, and then took a step towards this unexpected oasis which stood in such stark contrast to everything he had seen on this planet so far.

The roar behind him shattered the momentary tranquility he had found. He whirled around to come face to face with a massive, dark-furred Buoth. The ursine was at least two heads taller than him, and growling madly as he approached.

“Wait, hold on, I’m not your enemy,” he said desperately, holding up one arm in the Outlander’s direction but perhaps for a moment forgetting that he was still holding Garla’s phaser in the other.

The Buoth swung a paw his way and Lif felt his feet lifting off the ground as he went flying from the force of the impact, only to land in the shallow pond.

The shock of the cold water made him lurch back up, ignoring the pain in his burning shoulder. He slipped on the slick stones and fell back into the watery surface. The Buoth in the meantime was barreling his way, felling a couple of smaller trees in the process, which snapped almost like twigs as he bore down on him.

He had no idea where the phaser had gone and could do nothing when he felt a firm grip on his ankle, the massive Outlander easily pulling him out of the water only to toss him around like a ragdoll.

Lif grunted in pain when his back hit the trunk of one of the larger trees. He slipped out of the Buoth’s grip and crashed into one of the far walls.

Krellonian bones, thankfully, were particularly dense, and had he been any other humanoid, the impact against the stonewall may have broken his back. His tough physiology didn’t prevent him, however, to feel practically every inch of his body aching with terrible pain.

Through blurry eyes he could see that the ursine was not yet done, from the raving expression on his face, he guessed he wouldn’t be until he had torn him limb from limb.

Lif spotted the phaser by a tree just behind the now approaching Outlander who was in the process of raising both arms, likely planning to bring down the razor-sharp claws on the top of his paws to dissect him from head to toe.

Remembering his Starfleet close-combat training which Nora Laas had insisted all officers take part in on a weekly basis, he ducked and rolled forward, right underneath the approaching giant, bear-like creature which was too slow to stop him.

Lif hit the tree hard but didn’t let that stop him. He frantically reached for the phaser and then whipped around, his back leaning against the trunk to steady him.

The Buoth was getting ready to leap once more, probably squashing him and the tree behind him both in the process.

Clutching the weapon with both hands in front of him, he was unfamiliar with its design but thankfully the trigger was exactly where he would have expected it.

The bright crimson beam struck the ursine right in the head and burned a perfect hole clean through his skull as well as leaving a scorch mark on the wall behind him.

His eyes went wide for only a heartbeat before they glazed over and the beast dropped onto the ground with a loud thud so powerful it caused the tree behind Lif to shake.

He remained frozen in that position, the weapon still pointed forward at an opponent who was no longer a threat, his soaking wet and sore body trembling all over. He wasn’t entirely sure how long he had remained that way until he heard the approaching voices behind him.

It was Garla who reached him first, taking a knee next to him and gently lowering the weapon until she took it out of his hands completely. “Are you injured?”

But Lif just stared at the heap of Buoth just a few meters in front of him, its empty eyes looking right through him. “Is he … is he dead?” It didn’t occur to him until later that considering the prominent hole in the Outlander’s head, the question had been rather redundant.

Garla clearly didn’t need to check. “Let’s get you out of here.”
Part Four: Charybdis - 6 by CeJay
6


The transition back into normal space was nearly as disorientating as stepping into subspace. Falling backward into the fissure, he had felt weightless for a moment just before he had landed hard onto the deck back on Eagle. The bright overhead lighting and the much sharper and more defined shapes all around him were so dramatically different from what he had barely just gotten used to in subspace, his eyes burned with a stabbing pain and began to tear up, his lungs too, couldn’t immediately handle the much higher concentration of oxygen and nitrogen they were suddenly asked to take in again, and Michael felt as if he was about to drown in air.

He desperately fumbled with the armband on his personal shield to try and reconfigure it for his new surroundings or even deactivate it. When he failed to get the desired results, he simply ripped the entire armband away, causing the shield to instantly fizzle out and slowly begin the transition back to normalcy for his senses.

Michael’s relieve was short-lived.

The fissure in front of him was literally spitting out lightning which looked eerily familiar to the weapon’s fire the aliens had employed against them. They were still shooting, into the fissure and right into normal space.

The twisting beams crackled over his head and slammed into the bulkheads and ceiling of the corridor, leaving dark scorch marks behind. They also slammed into the force fields which still surrounded the gateway, and which were holding for now.

Michael reached for his phaser and returned fire, right into the maelstrom that was the angry, pulsating fissure, hoping he would hit anything within it.

He heard the force fields being dropped behind him and looking back he could see that Leva had smartly stationed armed security personnel down the corridor who now quickly followed the captain’s example and opened fire at the anomaly as well.

Unfortunately, it also made them vulnerable to the erratic lightning-like energy blasts, and a snaking discharge clipped one security officer, causing her to drop and struck another in the chest, slamming him hard into the bulkhead.

Michael looked over to see Diamond, the SMT team leader, starting to get back around herself after having removed her armband and he noticed the cylindrical devices attached to her belt. “Grenades, now!”

Diamond didn’t hesitate, unclipped the explosives and chucked them into the fissure, one after the other.

There were no explosions. At least none that Michael could see or hear.

Instead, the entire anomaly erupted with a sudden bright light and with such intensity, he had to shield his eyes and turn his head. It still blinded him.

A silent shockwave followed which flattened him to the deck plates. Once the pulse had washed over him and his vision was slowly returning, he pulled himself up and looked back towards the fissure into subspace.

It was gone. In fact, except for the smoldering bulkheads were the alien energy blasts had left their marks, there were no signs at all that the portal had ever existed in the first place.

Michael clambered to his feet, losing his balance on the first attempt, but then managed to get upright on the second. He looked back at Diamond who was pulling herself up as well. “Report. Injuries?”

“Nothing but our pride,” said Boom, the Andorian, as he sat up against the bulkhead holding his right arm.

Michael was sure that was an understatement. Pretty much every operative seemed to have been wounded at least to a minor degree, even if all of them remained conscious.

Further back he could see the two security specialists who had been hit, but they were already being seen to by their fellow colleagues, and from what he could determine their injuries were not fatal either.

“Captain.”

Michael turned upon hearing Xylion’s voice. He was relieved to find the Vulcan in one piece as well but his concern appeared to be focused on the alien he had managed to bring back through the gateway.

The creature was lying flat on its back and had started convulsing heavily, flopping around not unlike a fish out of water. Michael figured the analogy was probably fairly close.

“I do not believe it will survive for long under these conditions,” Xylion said.

It was only then that Michael spotted the final member of their team. Bensu was lying on his side, motionless against the bulkhead. In all the confusion he had almost forgotten that it had been Bensu who had allowed them to escape in the first instance, and also that he had suffered the most grievous injury when he had been impaled by one of the alien’s weapons.

Ivory got to Bensu first, took a knee beside him and gently turned him on his back.

Michael joined her a moment later, noticing the gaping wound on Bensu’s chest, his shirt drenched in dark green blood, his eyes empty and staring at nothing.

Ivory seemed to be looking for a pulse but found nothing. She looked up at him and slowly shook her head.

Michael tapped his combadge. "Owens to transporter room two, medical emergency. Lock on to Mister Bensu's combadge and beam him directly to sickbay."

Moments later Bensu dematerialized in a haze of blue light.

Michael had seen more than enough dead bodies during his career to know that there was little hope left for the enigmatic bartender who had so surprisingly turned out be not just knowledgeable about the aliens they had faced, but also impressively able to oppose them and give him and his team a chance to escape subspace. He had given his life for them.

“Sir, we need to take action now. I recommend we beam the alien into a containment area in which we can simulate atmospheric conditions similar to the ones we found in subspace.”

Michael turned back to Xylion who was now kneeling above the still convulsing creature and for just a brief moment he marveled at his ability to be so entirely detached after witnessing the death of what by all accounts had been one of his closest friends. Of course, he would not have expected anything different from the Vulcan and also quickly understood that Xylion’s priorities were absolutely correct. They had gone through too much to lose the only tangible evidence they had been able to recover from their deadly excursion into subspace now.

“Set up a containment area in cargo bay two and beam it there.”

Xylion offered a small nod in acknowledgment and began to give orders to the bridge to create the correct conditions at the other end.

A number of medics came jogging down the corridor with medkits and other supplies to tend to the wounded and Michael allowed one of them to look him over as well as he sat back down on the floor with his back against the bulkhead, thankful in fact to rest his aching body for a moment.

While the medic worked, he kept his eyes on the creature as it was finally beamed away, still convulsing heavily.

He could only hope that they had not paid too high a price to obtain it. If Jarik had been right about their intentions, if these subspace aliens were on the cusp of leading an invasion, then Bensu’s sacrifice may have been well worth it in the end.

But too many questions remained unanswered, and doubt had been Michael’s constant companion ever since this entire mission had first begun.
Part Four: Charybdis - 7 by CeJay
7


“I didn’t have a choice. It was either me or him in that moment. If I hadn’t shot him when I did, if I had hesitated for only a moment, you’d still be scraping pieces of me from that wall.”

Lif was sitting on his bunk, back on the Nebuchadrezzar, pushed all the way back, with his knees up against his chest, as he was relieving the traumatic experience back in the city just a few hours earlier when he had come face to face with an enraged Outlander.

Louise Hopkins stood by the bulkhead opposite him, considering him carefully. “Are you trying to convince me or yourself?”

He glared up at her. “You weren’t there. You didn’t see that Buoth’s rage-filled eyes the way I did. There was going to be no reasoning with it. No stopping it.”

Louise shook her head. “I am not saying I don’t believe you, Lif. It just doesn’t sound like you are entirely confident about what happened.”

“Of course, I'm not,” he snapped at her. “I killed somebody today. And not an enemy Jem'Hadar or a Cardassian soldier in battle. Not some faceless opponent on another ship. But another person, right in front of me. A person with whom I had no quarrel with.”

“He clearly had quarrel with you.”

He uttered a heavy sigh. “But that’s just it, he shouldn’t have. I wasn’t there to hurt him. I had no interest whatsoever in getting involved with his issues.”

She crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Maybe it was enough that you are Krellonian. Maybe in his eyes that automatically made you the enemy.”

“I don’t even know if he was part of the riot. For all I know I could have been intruding on his home. Maybe that garden was his private refuge I stumbled upon and he thought I was there to hurt him.”

“What were you doing there anyway?”

Lif looked back at her. “I was trying to get away from the riot.”

She shook her head. “No, I get that. I mean why were you anywhere near the riot in the first place?”
He considered that for a moment. “Garla wanted to show me the city.”

“During a period of heightened civil unrest? While a pandemic is sweeping this planet? That seems like an odd time for a sightseeing tour.”

Lif climbed out of his bulk to face her. “What exactly are you implying?”

She shrugged her shoulders. “Just that it is a little strange that she would put you in this kind of position to begin with, don’t you think?”

The inference made him angry. “You were the one who told me to seek her out and try and make a difference. You wanted me to do this. And now you’re telling me that I shouldn’t have?”

“I’m just saying to be more careful.”

“Thanks, I’ll try to remember that,” he said and began to head towards the door of the small cabin. “I should be making my report to Commander Star.”

“She’s not around.”

He stopped and turned to look at her again. “Where is she?”

“I’m not entirely sure.”

Lif immediately knew that she was holding something back and he skewered her with a look that told her as much.

She uttered a sigh. “Doctor Katanga went into the city to follow-up on a lead regarding the outbreak of the plague. Star found out and went after him. They haven’t returned yet.”

It wasn't difficult to tell that there was more to that story but for now, Lif decided he had more important things to worry about. "Who's in charge while she's gone?"

“Star left Nora in command in her absence.”

“Fine. Just go tell her what happened.”

“Where are you going?”

“I need to go see Garla again.”

She took a step after him. “Wait, you’re going back?”

“I thought you’d be happy about that. You were right, after all. Something needs to be done before the entire Star Alliance rips itself apart. It might all start right here. So far, Garla seems to be the only person who is willing to do something about it. I need to find out what that is and help her if I can,” he said and then left the cabin to return to the transporter.

Lif arrived back in the city with more than a little trepidation.

Signs of the riot from the previous day were everywhere he looked, from the trash-strewn streets, the burned-out hulks of skimmers and the visible damage to buildings and storefronts. Security was out in full-force, heavily-armed teams were patrolling the streets and were seemingly posted to every corner. Civilian traffic was light compared to what it had been the day before, and Lif couldn't make out a single Outlander amongst them.

He was greeted at the transporter by another armed team, this one identifying itself as working for Garla. Differently to the last time he had run into her men, these were clearly uniformed agents of the Eye, which helped speed them along passed the many security checkpoints they had to pass through.

Once inside her headquarters, it was Tann, her aunt’s Kridrip assistant who escorted him to the upper floors.

“That was quite a riot yesterday,” Lif said in the elevator after nothing but silence had passed between them, Tann once again turning out to be a terrible conversationalist.

He simply regarded him with his large eyes.

“Do you know how many people were hurt?”

“Too many,” he said and then looked away.

Lif wasn’t sure if the man blamed him for the death of a follow Outlander or if he was just naturally aloof.

“Are these riots happening frequently here?”

“Frequently enough.”

Lif nodded. Clearly, he wouldn't get any more information out of that man.

The elevator stopped but Tann didn’t make a move. After an awkward moment had passed, Lif decided to head off alone. The other man spoke up just before he had reached the doors.

“Let’s make one thing perfectly clear,” he said sharply. “I don’t trust you. And I don’t think the Sentinel should trust you either, even if you are related to her.”

He whirled around to face the man who was now staring him down.

“You have no business being here. You’ve turned your back on the Star Alliance a long time ago.”

Lif couldn’t really disagree with his point and yet he felt a sudden anger rise within him. “And have you shared those feelings with Garla yet?”

He hesitated a moment, then shook his head slightly, diverting his eyes. “It is not my place to advise the Sentinel on her business.”

“I'm glad to hear that. Now, why don't you remember your place, and take me to her?” He wasn't proud of the tone of his voice, or even of the words coming over his lips, and for a brief moment, he wondered if he had always talked to Outlanders this way without even having noticed it before. He liked to think that it was just this particularly recalcitrant man who had gotten the worst out of him.

He nodded. “Yes. I’ll do that. And I’ll also be keeping my eyes on you.”

“If nothing else, that should be part of your job.”

They exchanged a brief, poisonous glare before Tann led Lif out of the lift and towards Garla's spacious office.

Once inside she quickly left her chair and walked around her desk to greet Lif. “I’m glad you came back.”

He nodded at her.

“That would be all, Tann, thank you.”

But Tann stayed, which caused an irritated look to cross her features. “Is there a problem?”

He quickly looked at her as if embarrassed by his hesitation. “No. No problem at all, Sentinel. I’ll be right outside if you need me,” he said and then promptly left the office.

Garla looked after him with a puzzled expression. “I think these latest events are starting to take a toll on him. Can’t say I blame him.”

Lif said nothing as he stepped up to the large, floor-high windows of her office. Located on the sixtieth floor of the building, the windows gave him a great view of the city and the surrounding area. While it was certainly not the tallest building in the city, he had an almost unobstructed view of the chaos that had been created by the riot which clearly had spread much wider than he had first thought.

She joined him. “Not a pretty sight, is it?”

He shook his head.

“It’s a real shame. Not that this city—this entire planet—is much to look at in the first place, but the riot killed fifty people on both sides and injured a few hundred more. Not the kind of thing we need right now.”

“You knew this was going to happen, didn’t you?”

She remained silent as they both kept their eyes on the ant-like people and tiny vehicles below which were hurrying back and forth in an effort to try and clean up the damage that had been done.

“I had my suspicions.”
He turned away from the window to look at her statuesque profile.

“Suspicions? Please, you are a Sentinel of the Eye of Krellon. You’ve been a spy since I have been a child. Gathering and analyzing intelligence is what you do. You knew exactly what to expect.”

“That doesn’t mean that I could’ve stopped it.”

“But you had no qualms to put me right into the middle of it all,” he said angrily. “If you hadn’t, I would never have been in a position where I had to kill that Buoth.”

She turned to look at him and nodded slowly. “You are right. I did need you to see how bad things had gotten. I had to make you understand the enormous danger we are facing,” she said and shook her head. “But I didn’t mean to put you into that position. This time my intelligence wasn’t as solid as I had expected and the riot spread much faster and wider than anticipated. If it hadn’t, you should have been fine.”

“Well, I wasn’t.”

Garla walked back to her desk. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry about what happened to you, I truly am. But the truth is that what you experienced has become the norm for many of us who live here. On Piqus and beyond. At this pace, a civil war is going to be inevitable and it will tear the Alliance apart," she said as she took her chair again.

Lif followed her. “What can we do to stop it?”

She shook her head sadly. “We have to change as a people, Lif. We have to, for once and for all, accept our mistakes and the terrible injustices we have collectively been responsible for, either by partaking in them directly or by enabling others and turn a blind eye to what we all knew was happening.”

“The Great Shame,” Lif said quietly.

“Yes. But it’s not enough, you see. We can’t just label our history and try to move on from it as if it never happened. It happened, Lif, our forefathers set out into the galaxy, believing themselves to be so far superior to every race they came across, they believed they possessed a mandate from the Infallible Creator himself to conquer and subjugate them all. That dark legacy will stay with us for all time.”

“Then how do you reconcile this? How do you move forward from all that pain and suffering?”

“You don’t.”

He shot her a quizzical look. “I don’t think I understand.”

“It’s really quite simple, Lif. Some stains run too deep to ever be erased. Some wrongs simply cannot be made right again. Our people, the Krellonians and the Outlanders will never be able to come together, our differences are too vast and our shared history is built on a foundation that is far too damaged to allow to build upon.”

Lif wasn’t sure what she was saying. “What then are you proposing?”

She looked passed him and back towards the windows before she spoke again. “I call it a Stand-Alone Society. Or rather, societies,” she said and then looked Lif right in the eye again. "At this point, it is our only chance to not just save ourselves but the Outlanders as well." She stood up again. “We need to go it alone, Lif. It's the only way forward.”
Part Four: Charybdis - 8 by CeJay
8


Following the plasma trail left behind by unknown vessels Tazla Star had discovered, without anybody taking notice, was not a simple proposition. First and foremost, much of the air and orbital space around and above the major population centers were carefully monitored by the authorities as would have been expected by any modern society. Taking off in a shuttle and taking it into orbit would have drawn immediate and unwanted attention, particularly since the Starfleet contingent on Piqus had been given strict restrictions regarding their allowed movements.

But something else had occurred to Tazla. Piqus itself had been under a stringent quarantine protocol which not only predated their arrival on this world but judging from the decay rate of those plasma trails, also predated the telltale signs of orbital traffic they had uncovered in the Paradise District.

This seemed to imply that whoever had piloted those vessels would have had to contend with the same problems they were facing now, trying to head into orbit undetected by any ground-based observatories. Save for a number of satellites, Piqus did not possess any orbital platforms.

Any vessel leaving the surface may have been able to fool initial scans by running on low-energy mode, perhaps even using some basic stealth technology, but even that would only get a ship that far before it would be detected by sensors constantly searching the skies in order to enforce the quarantine.

The answer to the riddle became obvious once Tazla managed to figure out where the plasma trails were leading initially. Not directly into orbit, as she had first expected, but towards the planet’s northern magnetic pole, located just a few hundred kilometers from the city. The overlapping trails spoke of significant traffic over the last few weeks, perhaps even months, the ship’s always staying low to the surface, following a course to avoid the few spread-out population centers and taking advantage, no doubt, of the dark Piqus nights.

Since the plasma trails were already decaying rapidly, Tazla and Katanga had wasted little time to take to the Emerson, one of the half-dozen shuttles Eagle had left behind, and then using the cover of darkness to set out to follow the plasma trails towards the planet's North Pole.

Once they had reached the arctic region, Tazla realized that her assumption had been absolutely correct, the trails lead straight up into orbit from here, the magnetic interference in the area likely hiding any ships entering or leaving the atmosphere.

The plasma wakes led away from the planet and deeper into the Piqus system, towards the once mineral-rich asteroid belt which as far as Tazla was aware, from the admittedly limited intelligence they had been able to gather, had long since been mined to depletion.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” Katanga said, sitting to Star’s right in the shuttle’s cockpit while the Trill piloted the vessel towards the asteroid formation. “Why would anyone introduce a virus to Piqus from somewhere as close as the asteroid belt?”

“There must be more to this,” she said while she concentrated on flying the compact type-eight shuttle. “The multiple trails clearly hint at continuous traffic between the city and the asteroid belt.”

Katanga nodded. “My witness seemed to indicate a frequency of travel as well.”

"In which case, this isn't necessarily just about introducing a virus to Piqus," she said and looked at him. "Think about it, these vessels continued to operate even after the quarantine, meaning long after the virus was first introduced to the planet, and they've only stopped recently."

“If at all,” said Katanga. “For all we know they may have just changed their base of operations on Piqus.”

She offered him a short nod. “Whatever is going on here, I’m starting to think it might be bigger than just a disease.”

He offered her a grin, a rare sight on his features over the last few weeks.

“What’s got you so amused all of a sudden?”

"Oh, nothing. Just Dez and Eli back in action, solving the mysteries of the universe. Just like the good old days."

She shook her head as she focused back on her console. “You have a fundamentally distorted view of our past endeavors.”

“I don’t know, it strikes me that we did some good work back then. After all one of the things that came out of our adventures was the creation of MAAP,” he said before his face darkened once more. “Then you got that new, curvy body of yours and now it’s all about orders and politics, instead of the common good like it used to be.”

She swiveled her chair sideways to face him, trying hard to keep her rising irritation in check. "All right, let's get this over with for once and for all, shall we?"
“This is hardly the place or the time,” he said without making eye contact.

Star turned back to her controls but only to bring the shuttle to a full stop, after which she turned right back to him, determined not to go one inch further until they’ve had a long overdue talk. “We’re doing this now,” she said with finality.

He sighed and moved his own chair to face her. “Very well.”

“I am really getting sick and tired of your constant accusations that I somehow lost all compassion for other people since my days as Dezwin. First and foremost, let’s get one thing perfectly straight. Yes, you’re right that I’m not Dezwin anymore. I fondly carry all his thoughts and memories inside me, but I am my own person and have been ever since I was born and even after I joined with Star. I am the first to admit that I have made a number of bad decisions since my joining, some might even argue, disastrous ones, but I’ve worked hard over the last few years to regain the respect and trust of the people I work with. And the fact that I have lost yours—the man I possibly respect and trust the most—has hurt me a great deal. And I don’t think it’s entirely fair.”

"Was it fair for you to take it upon yourself and make decisions on my behalf after you knew precisely that I would not agree with them?" he said, crossing his arms defiantly in front of his chest.

“Fair? No, perhaps not. But Eli, you have to appreciate that you’re working within a command structure now. A command structure in which I outrank you and on occasions have to make decisions that you may not like. If you have difficulties acclimating to working in this manner, perhaps you should not have volunteered for starship duty again.”

"This isn't about following orders, and you know that. You made a unilateral decision about something I should have had a say in and you chose to ignore that. I know the years after you became Tazla Star were tough for you and that you still suffer from it. Hell, I've been the one helping you get you off that Syndicate poison you were addicted to, but I just cannot stand it when people take it upon themselves to make so-called hard decisions consequences be damned and then justify them by quoting some sort of hypothetical greater good."

She massaged her temples, trying to stave off a headache. “It was a gods-damned apology, Eli. A few meaningless words in a statement to a half-senile head of state holding a stupid grudge.”

“It’s the principle, Taz. Maybe it’s just a few words today, but what about tomorrow? Tomorrow it might be more than words, once more justified in the name of some ethically questionable concept. What is it the Vulcans like to say? ‘The good of the many, outweighs the good of the few’? That is a dangerous precedent to set and I don’t want to be party to it. And certainly not as a tool for you to resurrect your career,” he said, staring her right in the eye as he spoke.

“And that,” she said and pointed at him, “is complete nonsense. The notion that I did any of that for my own personal gain. Honestly, that hurts me the most, that you would have such a low opinion of me. Yes, I did it because there was a greater good to be achieved, but I would have done it regardless of how it would have affected my standing with the captain or even within Starfleet itself. Because it was the right thing to do at the time.”

The two old friends glowered at each other for a moment.

It was Katanga who began to nod first. “Okay.”

She shot him a quizzical look. “Okay?”

“Yes.”

“What do you mean, okay?”

“Just that.”

Her look darkened noticeably. “We’re good?”

He nodded. “Yes, we’re good.”

This in itself did not appease her at all, if anything it only made her madder. “What the hells, Eli? All the anger and righteous indignation you’ve been throwing my way over the last few weeks, making it a nightmare to even try to talk to you, and now, suddenly, it’s all forgotten? What was all this about then?”

He turned to face his controls again. “I just needed to hear you say it.”

“Say what?”

“That you were convinced that it was the right thing to do on its own merits. That you didn’t act this way because others expected you to. I needed to know that you had conviction of your beliefs.”

“Godsdamned it, you could have just asked.”

He shrugged.

She just shook her head and turned to the flight controls, putting the shuttle back in motion towards the asteroid belt. “You know what, Eli? You’re an old, pigheaded son-of-a-bitch sometimes and a real pain in my backside.”

He offered her a brief smile over his shoulder. “Just the type to keep you honest.”

Before she could consider this sudden development in her interpersonal relationship with Elijah Katanga, she noticed him leaning closer to the forward facing viewport, his eyes noticeably squinting. “What in the blazes is that?”

She followed his gaze until she found what had startled him so. They were heading deeper into the dense asteroid belt, filled with thousands of rocks of all sizes, most of which posed no danger to the shuttle and its shields. Katanga had fixed his attention on one of bigger ones, not quite the size of a small moon, but multiple times larger than a major starship.

It didn’t take her long to realize why it had drawn his notice. Almost half of the large rock was outright missing.

She glanced down at her instruments to run a scan. “There’s a lot of background radiation in this asteroid field and the shuttle’s sensors are not powerful enough to cut through it.”

“Don’t need sensors to tell me that there’s something very wrong with that asteroid,” he said. “And that they’re usually not hollow.”

"Hollow?" she said and looked back up and out of the viewport. Indeed upon closer inspection, she realized that he was right. A clearly artificial interior was visible where the outer mantle of the asteroid had presumably shed-off and was now exposed to the vacuum of space. "Good eyes."

“Other parts of me might be slowing down, but my vision is still excellent, thank you very much,” he said and regarded her with a frown.

She turned back to her console. “I think that asteroid is the main source of the radiation I’m registering. There are also signs of significant subspace disruptions in the area. Odd.”

“What?”

She shook her head. “The radiation. It looks familiar. I’m sure I’ve seen the pattern before but I cannot quite put my finger on it.”

“Let’s go over there and have a look.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

But Katanga was not going to take no for an answer. “Dez, we’ve come this far, no point in turning back now. The answers we are looking for are over there,” he said and pointed out of the viewport. “Let’s go get them.”

She hesitated for a moment but perhaps what finally won her over was not the strength of his argument, but the fact that he had reverted back to calling her by her former host’s name, which she had always considered a sign of endearment and one he had mostly abandoned over the last few weeks.

She glanced back at her board. “It won’t be easy,” she said. “There is a lot of radiation and I don’t think we can trust transporters. We would need to go EVA.”

“Suits me just fine,” he said and stood to get ready to leave the shuttle.

It took Tazla a few minutes to get the shuttle close enough to the asteroid to attempt boarding the exposed internal areas. She also spotted something that looked like a large landing bay but she ruled out the possibility of trying to set down the shuttle within the asteroid itself due to a total lack of gravity and the large amount of debris littering the deck. Instead, she backed up the small vessel as close as possible to the asteroid base and then lowered the back ramp after ensuring the force field protecting the ship's interior pressure and atmosphere was at full strength.

By the time she had locked down the controls and left her chair, Katanga had already retrieved two white and red environmental suits.

Tazla and Katanga quickly stripped out of their uniforms, pulled on the formfitting undersuits and then helped each other into the hard-shell EV suits. Katanga struggled a little bit with getting the bulky helmet sealed in place at first.

“Is this a good time to check when you were last certified for extra-vehicular activity?” she asked as she helped him with the helmet, referring to the standard training process every Starfleet officer had to complete at regular intervals. At least in theory. Like many things in Starfleet, seniority could get one out of a number of unpleasant tasks.

“Let’s just say that I’ve likely done more of those in one lifetime than you had to do in all of yours,” he said impatiently.

She wasn’t quite sure she agreed with that and it had also not answered her question. She made a mental note to check the records once they were back on Eagle.

“I swear they make these blasted things tighter every few years on purpose,” he said grumbling once the suit was fully sealed. “God forbid anyone should ever be comfortable while taking a stroll through the vacuum of space.”

“The more likely story is that you’ve gained some weight.”

“Nonsense.”

Star just smirked as she connected a tether to the shuttle and then attached it to both their suits. “Just stick close to me. I’d rather not lose you out there, especially now since we are such good buddies again,” she said over their helmet comms.

She stepped out of the force field and onto the ramp extending into nothingness first and then waited for Katanga to follow her with ginger steps. “Stand by to deactivate your magnetic boots. I’ll use my thrusters to get us over there, you just hang on.”

“By all means, lead the way.”

And so she did. She turned off the boots, immediately feeling herself becoming weightless and then glanced over to Katanga who quickly followed suit. Then she activated her thrusters and gave them both a gently burst towards the asteroid which was just a few hundred meters in front of them.

The trickiest bit was dodging the debris and asteroid fragments swirling all across their path. Clearly whatever had happened to the asteroid had not been on purpose and there was enough evidence to suggest that the interior areas had experienced an explosive decompression, which meant that if the base had been staffed at the time, it would have been very likely that the incident had led to multiple casualties.

“This looks bad,” he said.

She nodded inside her helmet. “I don’t think they saw this coming.”

Star dodged and redirected a few, large storage containers in their path, not worrying too much about smaller items which were becoming more numerous as they got closer, such as various handheld tools, devices and even some articles of random clothing.

She sat down gently on the outer edge of a large room which was fully exposed to the vacuum and reactivated her boots. A moment later she looked on as Katanga did the same. They both reached for their tricorders and began scanning.

“Radiation is definitely more pronounced here.”

“I see it, too,” he said. “I would have to take more readings but I’d bet my bottom dollar that this radiation would wreck havoc on biological organism if not properly shielded.”

She turned to look at him. “Enough to cause a rapid degradation of the immune system?”

“Perhaps. As I said, I’ll need more data.”

She nodded and then sat out deeper into the room, taking short, small steps and making sure that Katanga stayed close at her side.

The further they stepped into the facility the more obvious it became that whatever had happened to the station had happened recently. “Judging by the decay rate of the radiation, I’d guess this happened two, maybe three weeks ago,” said Star.

“And yet the plasma trails we have been following here are much more recent.”

She had considered that herself. For now, she had no explanation for that discrepancy.

“What is this over here?” said Katanga and then headed towards a number of heavy doors arranged in a row. One of the doors had ripped away from the wall and was nowhere in sight.

Tazla followed him to find a large but featureless and empty room behind the missing door. The walls of the room were scorched black as if something very powerful had burned itself out within it, perhaps even blown that heavy door off its hinges.

“I’m reading trace materials of boronite and painite here. Those are some seriously rare minerals.”

“And boron-based, if I’m not mistaken.”

She turned to look at him. “Yes. Why is that important?”

“Boron is mostly harmless to many humanoid species but it can be very dangerous to insectoids.”

Star followed. "And Krellonians have genetic similarities to insectoids from their early evolutionary development. A significant exposure to high levels of boron could have caused the Krellonian metabolism to break down rapidly."

“More than that, I wager. If our theory is correct, not only would significant exposure have led to a breakdown of biological functions, it may even have created the virus itself, incubated within those who were initially infected.”

“And if whoever worked here came from Piqus, they would have taken it back with them and then infected other Krellonians who were never even close to the initial boron exposure,” she said.

Katanga nodded. “I think this might be exactly what happened here. And now that I know that the virus was triggered by boron-based radiation, I might be able to devise an antidote.”

“The question still remains why the boron was here in the first place. What were they doing with it?” said Tazla and then moved on to the next door which was still sealed in place and contained a small viewport.

“Does it matter? We may have just figured out how to beat this plague.”

She raised her tricorder to scan the contents of the sealed room but froze when she noticed the readout on its small display.

"Omega? What does that mean?" Katanga asked as he noticed the blue symbol for the Greek letter appear on Star's tricorder.

Her only response was an ancient Trill curse the likes of which startled even the world-weary Elijah Katanga.

He didn't get much of a chance to inquire further on the matter since her tricorder was sounding yet another, urgent alarm.

“When it rains,” she mumbled to herself and then looked up at the puzzled doctor. “I set up the shuttle’s sensors to alert me of any activity before we left. Looks like we’re about to have company.”

“We need to get out of here. Take what we’ve found back to Piqus,” he said.

She clipped her tricorder to the waist of her suit. “No argument here. In fact, the quicker the better. Hold on to me,” she said as she reached out for him.

“Why do I have a feeling I’m not going to like this part?” he said but still grabbed hold of her outstretched arm.

“No point complaining now, you were the one who wanted to come here.”

“One thing you should know about aging humans,” he said, “is that complaining about things is our favorite thing to do.”

“I had noticed. Turn off your boots,” she said and then did the same to her own, causing her to start drifting away from the deck plates once the magnetic lock had been broken.

He did the same and with moments he was floating next to her.

“Hold on, this might be a little uncomfortable.”

“I’m a Doctor, I know that means you’re understating things.”

With her free hand, she wrapped some of the slack tether around her gloved hand and then, once she had a firm grip, pulled on it sharply.

The tether reacted almost instantly, reeling back at high speed and jerking them both forward and towards the shuttle. The mad dash through the outpost barely afforded them a chance to dodge any debris and loose items still floating between them and their destination, and for the most part, the best they could do was try and turn their heads to protect their face places from any impacts.

Thankfully they had already cleared most of the larger items which had been in their path earlier but Katanga did have a close run-in with what looked like a heavy fuel drum tumbling right in front of them.

Tazla was certain she’d be sore in the morning, particularly since they were both unceremoniously dumped into the interior of the shuttle, landing hard on the deck once they had passed the force field and the artificial gravity took hold of them once more.

"All right, let's not do something this stupid ever again," Katanga groaned as he struggled to pull himself off the floor.

Tazla was on her feet much quicker, practically ripping off her helmet and climbing behind the controls, not bothering with removing the rest of her suit for now. She looked over the console. “We’ve been scanned.”

“By whom?” Katanga asked, still in the process of getting off the floor, having only managed one knee so far.

She shook her head. “I’m not sure but—“ Glancing up towards the large forward viewport, she stopped herself when she caught sight of another asteroid, this one easily as large as the one they had just come out of. She hadn’t paid attention to it before since it was mostly unremarkable except that a large section of rock was now shimmering out of existence in front of her eyes to reveal yet another asteroid base, albeit this one with what appeared to be a fully operational interior.

“I suppose this answers our questions where those other ships leaving Piqus have been going,” Katanga said as he slowly approached the forward cockpit section.

Moments after the holographic cover had dropped, a large, bulky vessel emerged from within the asteroid. The chrome-colored ship glinted noticeably in the light of the Piqus sun. To Tazla it didn’t look much like a warship but like something much more utilitarian instead.

The three small and sleek, equally chrome-covered shuttles which followed the freighter, on the other hand, looked dangerous, with visible weapons ports attached to their forward hulls.

“We need to get out of here now,” she said and was working feverishly on getting the shuttle to move.

“I think it may be too late for that.”

Tazla allowed herself only the briefest glance back towards the asteroid but it was all she needed to realize that Katanga was absolutely correct. Those combat shuttles were opening fire.
Part Five: Lazarus - 1 by CeJay
Part Five: Lazarus

1


He watched her materialize on the transporter pad until her body had fully formed. For the briefest of moments, she glanced at him with something akin to relieve in her eyes. It quickly vanished, to be replaced by a stern, professional visage, befitting a person of her stature and position.

Amaya Donners bounded down the couple of steps leading from the platform to the deck of the transporter room. “Report.”

He caught himself snapping at her for her tone which would have been more appropriate for addressing a subordinate than a fellow starship commander. “The subspace fissure disappeared shortly after we made it back. There has been no further sign of it or of any incursion attempts by the subspace aliens.”

“That was a few hours ago. It should’ve stayed stable for longer.”

He scowled at her. "Getting out of there wasn't exactly a cakewalk. The aliens didn't take kindly to our visit and we very nearly didn't make it back in one piece at all. In fact, I lost a crewmember to those creatures."

She offered a brief nod to acknowledge the casualty. “Your civilian. Mister Bensu, was it? I’m sorry for your loss but I’m still not sure why he was part of that mission in the first place.”

“He possessed knowledge about the subspace fissure and those aliens none of us had. You’ve seen what he was able to do before we even left. If not for Bensu, we would not have been able to open the fissure at all.”

She considered that for a brief moment. “And how exactly did he come to this knowledge?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know. And now it appears we might never find out.”

“Damn it, Michael, you shouldn’t have gone through that thing by yourself. I had a team ready and fully trained for this mission.”

He was glad that he had excused the transporter chief before Amaya had even beamed onboard, having already expected some sort of confrontation, he had not wanted any of his crewmembers to be a witness to this conversation and their growing conflict. “I did what made the most sense at the time. You were obviously out of position and would not have been able to get here in time before we lost the fissure again. There is no point in bemoaning what went wrong. Let’s focus on where we are now.”

His sharp tone startled her for just a moment but she quickly recovered. "All right, let's do that. What did you find out?"

Michael didn't respond straight away since, in truth, the intelligence they had obtained by visiting the subspace realm was admittedly very thin. All they had really accomplished was to secure a prisoner who may or may not offer valuable information. He prayed that the creature would cooperate since otherwise their mission would have been a complete failure and Bensu would have lost his life in vain. "I made contact with … something over there. I'm still not entirely sure what it was. My science officer believes that it may have been a telepathic connection. It only lasted a moment in real time, but during that period I saw things that I'm still trying to sort out in my own head."

She didn’t look encouraged by this. “It could be nothing at all. Random mental imagery brought on by the obvious differences in brain chemistry between carbon and solanogen-based life.”

“Yes, it could. But I saw something else. It looked like a portal of sorts. Not like the subspace fissure but something much more stable and tangible. Artificially constructed.”

That did pique her interest. “A portal into subspace? It could be what we’ve been looking for. The means by which they plan to carry out their invasion.”

He nodded. “That’s what I thought.”

“Did you see anything else? Anything at all that could give us an indication of where to find it?”

He shook his head. “No, nothing like that. And the images I saw were not clear. It was all very nebulous. Literally, like hidden by a thick fog.”

She uttered a sigh. “Then it’s a dead end.”

“Not if our prisoner can fill in the blanks for us.”

“What’s its status?”

"We managed to stabilize it by flooding one of our cargo bays with solanogen gas and changing the composition and consistency of the atmosphere and gravity in that section. We don't know enough about its race to hold it indefinitely, I don't think, but for now, it remains conscious. We've tried to communicate with it without any success."

“Very well, let's go see our guest then,” she said and headed for the doors.

“Maya,” he said, stopping her short and forcing her back around.

“I can't believe I even need to say this but I think it’s time we established some ground rules,” he said.

She almost smirked but it never quite reached her eyes. “Ground rules?”
“I’m willing to put up with quite a bit for the good of this mission. Whatever that turns out to be. I always thought—no, strike that—I know that we have had a good relationship in the past. Professionally and otherwise,” he said, letting that last sentiment hang in the air for a moment.

She didn’t rise to the bait. “Get to the point please.”

“This is my ship. When you’re on board Eagle I’m in charge and regardless of our present issues, or whatever you want to call it—I expect you to follow my lead here. I won’t tolerate anything less.”

Her facial expressions turned into noticeable annoyance. Then she reached for her forehead, massaging it slightly. “Michael, there’s no need for posturing. Your ship, your rules. It goes without saying.”

He was about to respond, telling her that as of late, whenever she had been around, it hadn’t quite felt that way at all. But he was interrupted by an incoming call.

“Sickbay to Captain Owens.”

He recognized Doctor Barry Nelson’s voice, and it sounded somewhat agitated. “Owens here, go ahead, Doctor.”

“Sir, we need you here right away.”

He exchanged a quick look with Amaya. “Can this wait? There is some urgent business we need to see to.”

“I’d rather you’d come to sickbay first, sir.”

Michael sighed but ultimately nodded. “On my way, Owens out,” he said, closing the link and then glancing back at his guest. “Let’s make a quick detour.”

Less than three minutes later and with Amaya in tow, he entered sickbay and found Nelson and Xylion waiting for him. Both men had their backs turned to the two captains as they approached. "All right, Doctor, what exactly was so urgent that it couldn't wait."

Nelson and Xylion turned around and in doing so revealed a third man sitting upright on the biobed in front of them.

Michael couldn’t keep his mouth from dropping open in surprise.

It was Bensu. Alive and well.

Amaya spoke first. “I thought you were supposed to be dead.”

“I got better.”

Michael didn't appreciate Bensu's quip, not considering that he had been led to believe that he had died, practically in his arms just a few hours earlier, had seen his broken body and soulless eyes himself. Certainly a far cry from what he looked like now. His astonishment was quickly followed by a sense of relief, followed by a tinge of anger at having been lied to in such an unscrupulous manner. "What the hell is going on here?"

“As it turns out,” Nelson said, not sounding terribly certain of himself as he spoke, “Mister Bensu may not be entirely … biological.”

“What?” Amaya said, beating Michael to it by a microsecond or so. “What does that mean?”

Xylion continued. “Bensu possesses a synthetic body which superficially appears entirely biological, even to medical scans. It is a body we constructed to house his katra over multiple decades.”

That, to Michael, explained almost nothing. Instead, it only raised new questions. He pointed at Xylion and then Bensu. "You and you. In my ready room. Now. And you both better have a damned good story to tell," he said and then turned on his heel.

“Michael, I’m not sure we have time for this,” Amaya said as he walked straight by her.

But he was done delaying this conversation which he knew had been overdue the moment Bensu had unexpectedly appeared on the bridge. “We’ll make time.”
Part Five: Lazarus - 2 by CeJay
2

Lif had thought long and hard about the things Garla had told him and he had come to the conclusion, that for now at least, he was going to help her and see where her bold designs might lead.

There was no doubt in his mind that her plan of a so-called stand-alone society was both bold and unorthodox. It also was clearly antithetical to everything he had learned and come to accept after he had left Krellon and begun to immerse himself in Federation culture and society which, first and foremost, prided itself on its tolerant and inclusive philosophy.

But there was also little doubt that the Federation and the Star Alliance had very different histories and as such its people had taken very divergent philosophical avenues. Yes, he had argued with himself, the Federation was made up of a great many worlds, most of which with dark histories of their own in which entire sections of populations had been targeted for genocide, enslaved, disenfranchised or otherwise subjugated and discriminated against.

But most of those shameful histories lay in the distant past for those worlds and they had generally managed to overcome those internal challenges long before they had decided to join an intergalactic community in which all people were guaranteed the same basic rights.

The Krellonians, as recently as two hundred years ago, had set out to conquer their neighbors, devastated their worlds and abused their populations as slave labor. Conditions, of course, had improved since, but the rift between Krellonians and Outlanders had never even come close to healing while systematic racism throughout the Alliance was alive and well, as he had experienced first hand.

And Lif did understand that the Star Alliance was certainly not unique in the Alpha and Beta Quadrant with this dilemma. After all the Klingons, the Romulans and the Cardassians all shared similar histories in subjugating races of people they had deemed inferior, and yet he knew of no other people who struggled more with the question of equality or who were so close to a dangerous and ever-widening precipice which was threatening to tear its society apart.

So when all was said and done, and while he was not exactly proud of this, Garla’s plan made a certain amount of sense, and it was the only solution he had ever heard from a Krellonian—or an Outlander, for that matter—to seriously address the great issue of their time.

And while she had still not shared every detail of how she intended on implementing a scheme to entirely separate multiple societies and people who had been closely linked for many decades, he remained curious to learn how she intended to do accomplish this and if perhaps this solution, at long last, would mark the end of a struggle which had lasted for centuries and which had caused Lif—and likely many more like him—to become ashamed to be called Krellonian.

“I know this might sound somewhat ironic, considering what we are trying to achieve, but in order to make what I have proposed work, we’ll need help,” Garla told him in her office.

“The Federation?” he asked.

She quickly shook her head. “No. I don’t trust the Federation and I’d rather have nothing whatsoever to do with them. I’m still convinced that Yorlo inviting them here was a grave mistake.”

He shot her a dark glare. “I work for the Federation. Without Yorlo I wouldn’t even be here.”

“Yes, I know. And that might be the only good thing that came out of this. But the Federation would never sanction what I am proposing. They would never be party to it since it is entirely anathema to what they stand for and promote throughout the galaxy. What you and I know but the Federation doesn't understand, is that their ideology, as noble and progressive as it might sound, is not an automatic fit for every society in this galaxy,” she said and shook her head. “It won't work for us, Lif. And once we have completed the momentous task of rebuilding the Star Alliance, you, me and countless others, Krellonians and Outlanders alike, will be able to begin anew without the fears and anxieties which have plagued our thinking and our very lives for decades.”

Lif squirmed in his chair a little. "I just want to be very clear about one thing, Garla. I will not be party to any plan that promotes violence or suffering. There have been far too many examples in the histories of countless worlds of people who have sounded like you, people with great and benign ambitions which all ended in widespread bloodshed and misery in the end."

“I am not a monster, Lif. You should know me better than that. I have worked very long and hard on these plans, going to great lengths to ensure that it is the right solution for our people. For all people. I don’t want to tear down, I am planning to rebuild.”

Somewhat appeased, Lif nodded. “Good. So what exactly does this plan involve?”

She considered him for a moment with her brilliant, dark eyes, as if she could see deeper than the outer layers of his skin and get a glimpse into his mind instead. “I trust you, Lif, I always have. I think you are one of the smartest people I’ve ever known and the perfect partner for this undertaking of ours. But trust also needs to be earned. I will share everything with you eventually but for now, let’s take it slow, shall we?”

“Fair enough. But you did mention that we'll need help to make all this work. At least tell me whom we're working with.”

“Let’s just say it is not anyone within the Alliance.”

“A foreign power, then?”

She nodded.

“I find it hard to believe that you would trust foreigners with reshaping the future of our people,” Lif said.

“I don't. Not entirely. But it is a mutually beneficial agreement. They require resources I can provide and in turn, they will give us what we need to make the stand-alone society a reality. Don't worry, I won't keep you in the dark for long, I promise. After all, I will need your help for this. But for now—“ she stopped herself when something on her desk captured her attention. She picked up a padd and scanned its content. "I need to deal with something," she said and stood. "This won't take long. Stay here and I'll be right back." Garla quickly headed towards the exit and left the office.

Lif looked after her, wondering what had been so urgent. He understood that she wouldn't open up to him so quickly, after all, Garla had been a Sentinel of the Eye, a Krellonian spymaster, for decades, and one didn't get that far in a security and intelligence organization without being careful whom to trust. He was fine with that, at least for now. If Garla was on the level, if what she was proposing was truly possible, he simply couldn't afford not trying to do whatever he could to make it a success. For his sake but more importantly, for the sake of billions of Krellonians and Outlanders.

He stood from his chair and began to look around the large office located high up in the Eye skyscraper building. He wasn’t snooping, he told himself, merely trying to see if there was anything he could spot which would give any more indication on what exactly Garla had planned.

He headed over to a bank of computer screens taking up almost the entire far wall of the office. Most of the screens were currently dark, while a few others were seemingly performing routine monitoring tasks. He could see nothing immediately noteworthy displayed on any of them and he was not willing to abuse Garla’s trust by starting to dig deeper.

But just as he was about to turn away, one of the screens came to live with an urgent, flashing warning light. Without any prompting by him, the screen began to display multiple warnings. From what he could tell, it was some sort of proximity alert, what he couldn’t determine was what proximity exactly it was monitoring.

He shot a quick look at the still closed doors, noticing that Garla had not yet returned from whatever she had left to do, and then turned back towards the screen which seemed to demand attention and awaiting further commands.

His curiosity piqued, Lif activated a few panels on the console and the screen immediately displayed what apparently had triggered the alarm.

Lif froze.

The screen showed some sort of asteroid field and what looked like a damaged base within that field which was partially exposed to the vacuum of space. However, that was not what caused the feelings of dread rising in his stomach. There, right by that asteroid sat a Starfleet shuttlecraft, one he knew quite well since he had flown it before. It was the Roentgen, one of the shuttles Eagle had left behind, and which as far as he had been concerned should have still been safely parked by the field hospital set up just outside the city. It was the Roentgen and her clearly unauthorized presence in that asteroid field which had raised the alarm.

Looking at the screen closer, he could see a tether attached to the opened interior of the shuttle and leading into the damaged base, meaning that somebody from the away team was most likely presently inside that asteroid.

Two figures emerged from the base, clad in standard-issue, Starfleet environmental suits, being pulled by the tether and quickly disappearing inside the shuttle. Lif went back to the console and rewound the visual feed, then paused it and zoomed in closer onto the two figures only to recognize their faces illuminated by their suit helmet lights as belonging to Tazla Star and Elijah Katanga.

He heard footsteps outside the office.

Concerned what it would mean if Garla found out that members of his team had apparently, not only violated the mandated Piqus quarantine but also, seemingly, trespassed on an Eye facility, he quickly deleted the entire feed and the corresponding alert and then whipped around just in time to hear the doors to the office opening.

It wasn’t Garla entering the room, it was her assistant, the Kridrip Tann who strode inside. He stopped sharply when he spotted him. “Where is the Sentinel?”

“She had some business to attend do. She should be back any minute.”

Tann considered Lif suspiciously and then walked over towards him and the computer console. “What are you doing?”

“Nothing. Just waiting for Garla to return.”

It was clear that he wasn’t entirely satisfied with that response and as he walked by him and stepped up to the computer, he began to activate the console and study the various screens. Lif wasn’t entirely sure if he had deleted the feed correctly since he had not had much time to do it and it had been a while since he had worked with Krellonian technology. He looked on with dread as Tann seemed to be checking every single screen in great detail.

“You shouldn’t be here unsupervised. You are not authorized,” he said, continuing to scan the screen.

“Obviously Garla trusts me enough to be here by myself. The very fact that she left me here, means that I am authorized,” he said, using indignation to try and distract from what he had done. “Maybe start to get used to that.”

To Lif’s relieve Tann stopped looking at the screens and turned to face him instead. The scowl on his face, however, seemed to attest that he would not ever be comfortable with him around.

Garla came rushing into the room then, clearly in a hurry and judging by her voice and demeanor, greatly concerned. “We have a developing situation at the facility,” she said.

Lif felt a cold shudder shoot up his spine.

“What kind of situation?” Tenn asked, briefly giving Lif a look which seemed to confirm his suspicions about him.

“It’s one of the freighters. It’s been hijacked.”

He felt a weight lift off his chest. “A freighter?”

“I’ll explain on the way,” she said. “But we need to leave right now and resolve this situation no matter what. It is essential for our plans that we take care of this now.”

Lif took a few steps towards her. “Leave where? There’s a planet-wide quarantine in effect.”

“I’m a Sentinel, Lif, there are very few things that I cannot get around if I have to. Now, let’s go, we don’t have much time. Tann, I need you to stay here and coordinate our efforts,” she said and then turned on her heels and headed back out.

Lif followed her closely, no longer concerned with the Kridrip but now wondering how this apparently hijacked freighter factored into the picture, and perhaps more importantly, how Star and Katanga were involved. He also quickly understood something else. After what he had just seen, and after what he had done, he was now balancing on a razor’s edge and one wrong move could have disastrous consequences, not just for him but potentially for the away team as well and on a much grander scale, possibly even for the entire Star Alliance.
Part Five: Lazarus - 3 by CeJay
3

She had known immediately that there was not going to be any chance outrunning those small and nimble-looking combat shuttles which had emerged out of the second asteroid base, certainly not in the Roentgen, so instead of trying to make a likely fool-hardy run for it, Star had hit the forward thrusters and unceremoniously backed up the shuttle into the hollow asteroid directly astern with no consideration for the debris and flotsam in their path. She had powered down all non-essential systems and for all intents and purposes played possum.

The presumably Krellonian shuttles raced right past them without even slowing down, chasing after the freighter which had departed the hidden base mere moments before.

“Why are they shooting at one of their own?” Katanga asked as he followed the bizarre scene playing out in front of them as long as he could and until all ships had moved out of visual range.

“To be honest, as long as they’re not shooting at us, I don’t really care all that much.”

“So they didn’t see us?”

She shook her head. “I’m not sure. We were definitely scanned, that much seems clear. I don’t think we’re totally out of the woods yet.”

“Well, we can’t stay here. We have a potential cure for this epidemic and we can’t afford to sit on it now.”

She considered her options for a moment. Then, after making sure the freighter, as well as the shuttles, chasing it had moved on, she reactivated the thrusters to nudge Roentgen forward again. “I’ll plot us a course back the way we came, but we’ll need to stick to thrusters until we’re out of the asteroid field.”

Leaving the belt without the use of the impulse engine took some time during which Taz and Katanga sat mostly in silence, the latter more than likely considering everything he had learned on the asteroid and how he could use this knowledge to quickly and efficiently synthesize a cure.

It wasn’t until they had finally cleared the asteroids and Piqus came back into view that Katanga asked the question Star had been dreading ever since they had left the destroyed base behind. “What was it you picked up in that base that had you so spooked?”

She kept her eyes glued to the viewport for the moment, avoiding eye contact with Katanga.

Of course, ignoring Elijah Katanga had never been a strategy proven to be successful. “Taz?”

“I can’t talk about it,” she said without moving her head.

“Not this again. I thought we had been through all this mystery bull already. I thought we had come to an agreement that—“

She turned to look at him. "Eli, I love you. I really do. And trust me if I could I would share with you whatever it is I know. But you have to accept that there are things that—because of my position—I am not at liberty to discuss with you. I'm sorry if that puts a strain on our friendship. I wish it wouldn't. But sometimes it isn't up to me. We are both small parts of something far bigger than either one of us and in times like these we just have to accept that and move forward."

He glared back at her with an intense stare which to Taz felt as if he was attempting to pierce her skull. Thankfully she was fairly confident that Katanga, for all his skills, was not a telepath. “This thing you’ve found,” he said. “Do you think it is related to the disease on Piqus?”

“The boronite clearly does,” she said without hesitation. “But I don’t see how anything else we found on the asteroid is related.”

This seemed to appease him slightly. “Could what you found pose a danger to us and the planet?”

She faced away again. “Yes.”
“Then what do you plan to do about it?”

She had no immediate answer to that question.



* * *




It wasn’t often that Michael Owens was conflicted about how he should feel about an issue. Even though, of course, he hadn’t truly known Bensu that well, and up until recently had considered the enigmatic man as not much more than a civilian member of his crew who thanks to arrangements made by his close personal friend Xylion had been allowed to stay on Eagle even when most other civilians had left when the Dominion War had broken out, Michael was undeniably pleased to realize that the news of his demise had been wildly exaggerated when he had found him alive and well in sickbay.

Bensu's surprising knowledge of the subspace aliens and their domain, making it possible for Eagle’s away team to reach it in the first place, had raised a number of questions. The revelation that Bensu was, in fact, a synthetic lifeform, something that appeared to have been well-known to his own science officer and which had never been shared with Starfleet or with him, felt at best like an unacceptable omission and at worst like a betrayal by one of his senior officers.

The very same he was now staring daggers at as he stood in front of him in his ready room, posture perfectly erect, eyes pointed straight at the bulkhead behind where Michael sat at his desk.

The subject of this entire mystery stood to one corner of the room, making eye contact with nobody.

Amaya Donners who had also shown some confusion at this latest revelation, even if it didn’t seem to rival Michael’s own feelings on the matter, sat on the couch on the other side of the room, her attention split between the Vulcan and the civilian.

Xylion had just finished explaining the origins of Bensu, dropping one twist after the next, which had left Michael pretty much speechless for most of it. Bad enough that apparently Bensu’s spirit—his katra, Xylion had called it—had apparently resided within Xylion’s mind ever since he had come across his incorporeal form while he had crossed the unforgiving Vulcan desert of the Vulcan’s Forge while he had been a child, Xylion had further admitted that the two individuals, sharing one body, had worked together over decades to create, what for all intents and purposes had turned out to be a nearly perfect synthetic body to house Bensu’s mind, which had stood up under rudimentary medical scrutiny as being entirely biological.

“Let’s make one thing perfectly clear, Commander,” Michael said once Xylion had seemingly reached the end of his amazing tale. “I am not upset to learn that Mister Bensu is much more than meets the eye.” He shot a brief look at the alien in his now, once again, fully restored synthetic body. “After all Starfleet’s main mission remains to make contact with new life in all of its forms. And Mister Bensu certainly qualifies as one of the more unique lifeforms we have come across. What I have a difficult time wrapping my mind around is that you felt it necessary to hide this matter from your commanding officer all this time.”

“Sir, I propose to you that if Lieutenant Commander Leva or Lieutenant Deen had asked permission for a civilian associate of theirs to join Eagle’s crew, and that if this associate had certain physical properties outside what is considered the norm, for example, a synthetic limb, you would not have felt it a requirement for this information to be shared with you."

“Mister Bensu doesn’t have a synthetic arm or leg,” Amaya said, leaning forward from where she sat on the sofa. “He’s an entirely synthetic lifeform.”

Xylion considered the other captain. “That is not entirely correct, sir. Bensu’s body is synthetic. His mind, however, is not.”

Michael shook his head. “There is a big difference between somebody having an artificial limb and having an entirely artificial body, especially since there is practically no precedent for it within Starfleet.”

“There is an artificial lifeform which serves on the U.S.S. Enterprise—“

Michael waved him off. “I am well aware of Commander Data, Mister Xylion. But the key difference here is that his crew, as well as Starfleet, were well aware of his nature as an android long before he became an officer.”

“Mister Bensu does not serve in Starfleet.”

“You are missing the point, Commander.”

Xylion raised an eyebrow in response.

Michael uttered a frustrated sigh and once again glanced towards the subject of their discussion who was still perfectly content to avoid taking part in it. He turned back towards his science officer. “Are you seriously telling me that you believe that hiding Mister Bensu’s true nature from us—from me—while he was part of this crew, was appropriate? That it was logical?”

That seemed to bring him up short. “No, I cannot in good conscience state that it was a logical decision.”

“You shared a mind with Mister Bensu for what, seventy years?” Amaya said. “Is it possible that this may have clouded your judgment somewhat? Hell, if I had to share my mind with another person for that long, I’m pretty sure I’d go nuts.”

Xylion turned to look at Donners. “If you are asking me if I believe that my experiences with Bensu have made me unable to function logically, I would point to my exemplary service record on this vessel as evidence to the contrary.”

“Alright, nobody is saying that you are not an impeccable Starfleet officer, Commander, or for that matter, a lesser Vulcan. But isn’t it possible that on the matter of Mister Bensu you may possess a somewhat subjective viewpoint?” Michael said. “You admitted yourself that the decision of hiding the truth about him was not logical.”

“Considering the evidence I must agree to your theory, sir.”

Maya stood from the couch. “We can sit here and discuss if Commander Xylion was right or wrong all week long,” she said and then took a couple of steps towards Bensu. “What I want to know is how you were able to create a subspace rift and why you know about the subspace aliens.”

Bensu looked up for the first time. “I wish I could tell you. The truth remains that I just don’t fully understand how I’ve come in possession of this knowledge.”

Amaya didn’t seem satisfied by that response judging by the dark frown on her face. “I’m not buying that. We’re facing a possible invasion attempt by a hostile and mostly unknown, extra-dimensional threat, and here you are, another mostly unknown element. I can’t help wonder if you may not also be a threat to us.”

“I can attest that Mister Bensu does not pose us or the Federation any harm,” said Xylion.

She shot him a skeptical glare. “And I’m not clear how you could possibly do that since you seem to know just as little about him as he claims he does.”

“They have shared minds for decades,” Michael said. “I would think that if Mister Bensu truly were a threat, he would not have been able to hide it.”

"Or maybe this mind-sharing had a more profound effect on Mister Xylion than even he realizes. We've already established that his logic has been flawed as it pertains to Mister Bensu."

But Michael was not yet willing to go down that route. He had to believe—and nothing in his five-year experience with the Vulcan told him otherwise—that Xylion was still as reliable an officer and a man as he had ever been. “I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt here. For now.”

Amaya Donners was clearly not as convinced, but apparently remembering his earlier warning when she had first beamed onboard, she backed-off, satisfied, at least for the time being, to let him handle this matter how he saw fit.

“We’ve been focusing a lot about what we don’t know,” Michael said and considered the two men again. “Why don’t you start telling me what we do know about Bensu’s background?”
With Bensu still reluctant to speak for himself, Xylion picked up the question instead. “We have only very recently learned that Bensu appears to belong to a race of people not native to this galaxy. This race developed technology to make it possible for their minds to be transplanted into fully synthetic bodies.”

“How did he end up on Vulcan?” Michael asked.

“It appears that he survived the destruction of his homeworld. The manner in which his mind was able to span the distance between his galaxy and ours is still not clear.”

Agamemnon’s captain shot Michael an insistent and clearly skeptical look but Michael decided to ignore it for now. “And you learned all this how?”

“By retracing our steps in the Vulcan’s Forge and using residual energies which were still present at the location of our first joining, we were able to initiate a mind meld which unlocked some of Bensu’s memories.”

Michael nodded, recalling that Xylion and Bensu had only recently been on shore leave together on Vulcan, ostensibly to honor a tradition of revisiting Xylion’s maturity ritual decades after he had first undertaken it. It was clear now that there had been much more to that trip. “I’ll need some time to consider the full implications of this bombshell you two have dropped on me. For now, you’re both dismissed.”

Xylion turned and left the ready room without delay. Bensu hung back just a moment longer, making fleeting eye contact with the captain before he too followed the Vulcan.

Amaya turned towards Michael as soon as the doors had closed behind them. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Michael took his chair again, massaging his forehead to try and stave off a headache he felt coming on. Considering what he had just learned, he thought it to be a futile effort.

“I don’t believe half the stuff I just heard.”

He glanced up at her. “You’ve been in Starfleet long enough to see some strange things, I’m sure.”

“There’s strange and then there’s strange and then there’s this.”

The intercom signal interrupted their deliberations. “Leva to Captain Owens.”

Michael was almost grateful for the intrusion. “Go ahead, Commander.”

“Sir, we’ve just received a priority signal from Arkaria XI. We’ve been instructed to return there at once.”

Michael looked back towards Amaya. “Understood, Commander. Owens out,” he said, closing the channel. “Jarik.”

She nodded.

“I take it you told him about our guest.”

“He needed to know that we’ve taken one of aliens prisoner. And I suggest we make our way back there as quickly as possible. We’ve lost enough time already.”

But Michael was torn on that subject. Part of him just wanted to hand over their prisoner to Amaya so that he could return to Piqus as soon as possible where he had left Star and a good quarter of his crew. Her last update had indicated that she had decided to investigate anomalous readings which might force her to ignore the planetary quarantine. He had somewhat questioned the wisdom of trying to antagonize the Krellonians but he trusted Star to know what she was doing. But he also knew that without Eagle providing backup, Star and her team were exposed and vulnerable.

At the same time, he couldn't ignore the developments all around him. The things he had seen in the subspace domain, the increasing evidence of an impending invasion, and, of course, the latest revelation of Bensu returning from the dead, and his mystifying origins and unexplained awareness which seemed far too specific to be a mere coincidence.

Amaya seemed to know what he was thinking. “Transfer the prisoner to my ship and I take it back to Arkaria, leaving you free to get back to your people.”

It was a good offer and one that made perfect sense.

In the end, it was his late father's cryptic and ominous words which made him hesitate to take her up on it.

He stood, tugging down on his uniform jacket as if it would cement his resolve. “I want to have a talk with that prisoner first. And something tells me we’ll want to have Mister Bensu around when we do.”
Part Five: Lazarus - 4 by CeJay
4

Garla had taken Lif to the top of the Eye building which functioned as a landing bay below an angled and semi-transparent roof. The sentinel walked Lif passed a larger ship parked on the deck and instead boarded one of the sleek looking shuttles, joining an already assembled team waiting inside.

Lif watched as the tinted roof above them slid open to reveal the dark and cloudy night sky before Garla jumped behind the piloting controls herself and took the shuttle out.

True to her claim, she followed a course which seemed to circumvent any sensor facilities tasked with enforcing the planetwide quarantine, keeping the shuttle close to the ground and making use of Piqus’s magnetic poles to hide their orbital ascent.

While Garla was busy navigating the ship, Lif checked the back to consider the team of twelve operatives, all armed with high powered phaser rifles and wearing body armor, a strike force, Lif thought, outfitted for a major military engagement.

Once they had reached orbit it didn’t take long at all to catch-up with the bulky and much slower freighter which was already being chased by three combat shuttles not at all dissimilar to their own.

Lif watched through the viewport as the three shuttles kept firing potshots at the larger ship, infuriating Garla. “Lif, toggle the comms.”

He found the right panels promptly. It had been some time since he had been in a Krellonian shuttle, but he had grown up with vessels like these, had learned to fly in them, so it all came back to him quickly.

“The next person who takes a shot at that freighter will be assigned to scrubbing clean the inside of sanitary tanks for the next month,” she said angrily. “Keep your distance and hold your fire.”

Lif confirmed that all three ships had acknowledged the order.

Garla nodded and brought their shuttle closer until they were practically surfing in the freighter’s engine wake.

Once satisfied that the other ship was squarely within their grasp, Garla activated the autopilot and then swiveled around in her chair to face the strike team in the back. Lif followed suit.

“All right, here's the situation. A number of armed Outlanders have taken over that freighter and are holding the crew hostage. The freighter's shields are up but, what they don't know is that these ships have a weakness in their aft shield rotation, a tiny window which we can exploit to beam onboard,” she said.

“What do the hijackers want?” Lif asked.

“It’s always the same. Freeing prisoners, better living conditions, total autonomy, take your pick. It doesn’t matter.”

“Some of those are valid demands.”

She shot him a dark scowl. “You think I don’t know that? But this is hardly the way to do it. That freighter is transporting vital cargo and we cannot afford to lose it. We’ll deal with their demands once the situation has been resolved.”

Lif didn’t exactly like that approach but he understood that this was Garla’s call and there was no doubt that she had much more experience in these matters than he did.

Once it was clear that he had no further objections, she continued. “According to our remaining operatives on board, the mid-section is currently under our control. We’ll beam over and attempt to neutralize the hijackers and free the hostages. If that is not possible, we’ll attempt to take control of the flight systems,” she said and stood after she had received clear nods from her team. She walked over to an equipment locker, removed a phaser rifle and handed it over to Lif.

He hesitated. “Maybe I should stay behind and keep an eye on the shuttle.”

But Garla shook her head. “I may need someone with real piloting skills over there in case the crew doesn’t make it,” she said, clearly not willing to take no for an answer.

Lif reluctantly took the rifle.

“Just stay close to me and keep your head down,” she said.

He looked over the phaser she had given him, making sure he knew how to operate the weapon. It was not quite as versatile as a standard-issue Starfleet rifle but it seemed easy enough and he quickly found the safety toggle, as well as the stun setting.

“Standard boarding formation,” Garla ordered and her team immediately raised their rifles, six operatives took a knee, while the remaining four assumed position around Garla and Lif. “Computer, energize transporter sequence,” she said.

The shuttle’s onboard computer executed the order at once and Lif could feel the telltale tingle of his molecules beginning to be scrambled.

Things went badly from the very start.

The shooting seemed to have started even before he had fully materialized on the deck of the freighter. The dark corridor he found himself in was alight with phaser fire blasting back and forth. He could make out flashes of figures somewhere further down, and while it was difficult to be certain, he thought they were the ones shooting at them.

He hadn’t even gathered his wits yet before he heard the screams.

“Get down!” He couldn’t clearly see her in the phaser-lit corridor but he recognized Garla’s voice.

The screams had belonged to some of her people.

At least half of them had gone down and hit the deck within moments of their beam-in.

His first conscious thought in the chaos was to find cover. Before he could even make a move, he felt the hit. A searing, burning heat, and a sting so painful, it felt what he’d imagine it would be like if a full-grown wildcat would burry its razor-sharp teeth deep into his arm.

The force of the blast forced him to spin around and lose his balance. He landed on top of another body, rolled off it and came to rest on the hard deck.

Looking up through tear-filled eyes, he saw others go down as well in what was beginning to look more and more like a crossfire with him and Garla’s team stuck right in the kill zone.

He still couldn’t see her in the confusion and the dark corridor which remained lit only be the weapons fire flaring back and forth.

He could make out, however, a clearly lupine shape closing in on his position, blinking in and out with every phaser blast whirling around them.

Lif fumbled to find his weapon but he had lost it when he had been hit. By the time he looked back up, he could see the fur-covered Outlander hovering above him, just a mere paces away now. So close, in fact, he could make out his razor-sharp teeth glinting in the ongoing exchange of fire. He could see him raising a pistol to take aim.

The Outlander hesitated once the phaser was level with Lif’s head, and he wasn’t entirely sure why he had decided to delay the inevitable now that he had a clear shot and all that was left to do was to pull that trigger.

It took him a moment to realize that the delay had not been one of his choosing. Dark blood erupted out the T’aq’s mouth and he began to sack to the deck.

The corridor went dark momentarily, and when he could see again, he saw Garla where the Outlander had stood a heartbeat earlier, a blood-dripping knife still clutched in her hand.

Then she was gone again. But only for a moment. Faster than he had thought possible, she had moved behind him. “I’ve got you,” she said and reached out for the neck of his tunic, pulling him towards a small alcove where she propped him up against the bulkhead. “Are you injured?”

“I think so. Left arm,” he said, silently admiring the calm tone in her voice, considering the circumstances.

She quickly inspected the wound. “Grazed you good, but doesn’t look deep. No damage to the bone or arteries. You’ll live.”

It still hurt like hell. He did his best to try and ignore it. “What happened?

He saw her looking up but it was doubtful she was able to see much as the firefight continued. “Good question. According to what I was told, ten seconds ago, this was a safe beam-in spot.”

“Well, that has changed.”

Garla surveyed the corridor, even in the near darkness which was now much less regularly interrupted by sporadic flashes of phaser fire. “Three, maybe four Outlanders left down the corridor.”

“How many still on our side?”

“We‘ve lost at least five men. Not sure how many are left alive,” she said.

Judging by the fact that phaser fire was still being exchanged by both sides, Lif had to believe at least some Krellonians were still in the fight.

“Can we beam back to the shuttle?”

She shook her head. “That trick of beaming through the shields only works one-way. We need to make a different play here,” Garla said and then thrust her phaser pistol into his hand. “Do you think you could draw them off?” She pointed towards what may have been another alcove on the other side of the corridor, in the poor light Lif wasn’t entirely sure. “Take a couple of shots and then hurry over there. That should be all the distraction I need.”

He looked at her as if she had just grown a third arm.

“We stay put and we may not make it out of here alive. I’m going either way, but our chances will be much better if you can create a diversion.”

Lif took a deep breath, realizing that she was probably right. For just a fleeting second he wondered how he had managed to get himself in such a desperate situation yet again, once more fighting for his life. The moment passed and he nodded, "Help me up." With her assistance, he managed to get back onto his feet.

“I just need a few seconds, don’t try to do anything stupid.”

“You mean besides following you on a hijacked ship and running down a dark corridor while people are trying to shoot me?”

“Besides that.”

He took one last deep breath. “Here goes nothing.” He leaned forward, toward the edge of the bulkhead and fired three blasts down the length of the corridor, each shot illuminating at least three Outlanders scrambling for cover. He felt a tap on his shoulder and took that as the sign to go.

Ignoring the burning pain in his shoulder, he took off as fast as he could, crossing the corridor with only one thought in mind: Don’t get shot. Again.

He saw the sprawled out body of the Krellonian operative too late and tripped over his legs. Fully aware that if he stopped now he was likely dead, he did the only thing he could think of in that situation and jumped forward even as he fell, diving head first for cover.

He landed painfully on his wounded arm and managed to roll into the alcove until he hit the bulkhead, breathing hard as relentless pain shot up his arm and spreading to the rest of his body.

Renewed phaser fire from the opposition once again lit up the corridor and he could see Garla smiling at him from the other alcove.

Then she was gone.

She may have been just faster than he had given her credit for, and in truth, it was difficult to focus on much of anything in their gloom-filled surroundings, but he could have sworn that she had disappeared into thin air.

He wondered if she had lied about beaming back to the ship and had instead abandoned him.

Then he heard the screams. But these ones didn’t belong to the boarding party.

He pushed himself up, rather painfully, to the edge of the alcove to be able to spy down the length of the corridor. There he could see the frenzied phaser fire which was now no longer aimed at his direction but at a threat much nearer and more immediate.

Garla reappeared once more and smashed the head of an unprepared Kridrip into the wall of the bulkhead with such force and brutal efficiency, it left behind a large and visible blood smear.

Next the sentinel took to the air, elevating herself by using the body of the falling Outlander and pushing herself off the bulkhead, she practically leaped across empty space with the grace of a ballet dancer half her age, and with one outstretched leg she easily felled another opponent, her boot striking him right across the face, before she brought her legs back together and slammed her knees into the chest of a reptilian Zel, knocking him onto the deck.

Driven by momentum, she executed a forward roll, wheeling over the Zel and then came back up to deliver a perfect uppercut to the last Kridrip still standing, knocking him onto his back.

She made sure the last two men stayed down by delivering two vicious kicks against each of their heads.

Another phaser blast whizzed by Culsten from the other end of the corridor, missing Garla by a hair’s width. “Cease fire, you fools,” she barked.

A couple of Krellonians emerged from the other side, holding beacons to illuminate the corridor and the many dead or injuries bodies littering the deck.

Garla found what looked like the highest-ranking Krellonian and addressed him first. “By the Infallible Creator, you better have a good explanation for this mess?”

The man seemed flustered and clearly exhausted. He was bleeding from a few wounds which looked mostly superficial. “Sentinel, my sincere apologies. We thought … we thought we had the situation under control. The hijackers made an unexpected push for the bridge, just before you beamed onboard.”

Garla seemed no longer interested in what had happened. “What’s our status now? Have the cargo modules been compromised?”

He shook his head. “No, the cargo is secure. However, there are at least two dozen hijackers left who are holding the rest of the flight crew hostage in the aft compartments. But there is no way they'll be able to get into the cargo units.”

Garla considered the man for a moment and then glanced back towards the aft part of the ship. “Given time they will.”

“We can take back the ship and—“

She turned back around to face him. “Collect the wounded and the dead and abandon ship.”

The officer looked back at her with a dumbstruck expression. It didn’t last long, apparently it wasn’t a wise career move to disregard the orders of a sentinel. He nodded quickly and then went off to follow her instructions.

Garla walked back to Lif who had witnessed the exchange from where he was leaning against the bulkhead. “Can you walk?”

He nodded. “I think so.”

“Good, I need you to come with me to the bridge,” she said and set out.

He followed her gingerly. He could walk all right, but it wasn't exactly smooth or painless. "I thought we're abandoning ship."

“We are. But first we need to do something.”

“What about the hostages?”

She didn’t respond to that.

They reached the bridge located at the very front of the freighter after just a short walk. They found the compact command center made up of a handful of computer consoles and five chairs abandoned, the entire crew either preoccupied with holding back the hijackers or already having fallen victim to them.

“Get to the helm. I need you to get ready to engage the autopilot and activate the warp engines on a delay to give us time to clear the ship. I’ll make sure that nobody will be able to interfere with the controls once we’re set,” she said, even as she was headed for an auxiliary control station.

He did as he was told, lowering himself into the pilot’s seat. “What course shall I set?”

She looked at him for a moment. “It should already be pre-programmed.”

He nodded when he saw the coordinates which as far as he could tell where nowhere near anything of importance at all.

The ship shuddered slightly as a number of escape pods shook themselves loose from the freighter.

“We don’t have much time left.”

“You mean to leave the hostages?”

“The future of our people is at stake, Lif. The future of the entire Star Alliance. We cannot get derailed now by the actions of a few extremists. I hate having to make sacrifices but I’ve not been given another choice.”

“What happens to them when the ship gets to those coordinates?”

A loud bang against the bridge door caused them both to whip their heads around. The sound was quickly followed by more clattering and the heavy panels were beginning to budge. Someone on the other side was clearly determined to get in.

“We’re out of time,” Garla said.

Lif activated the delayed warp startup sequence. "Ten seconds to warp."

“Let’s go,” she said, pointing at the bridge’s only remaining escape pod.

Lif got out of the pilot’s seat and made his way towards it. Garla took the phaser he still carried out of his hand and then fired it at the helm station, causing it to erupt in a shower of sparks and smoke. Then she followed him into the pod.

He could see the doors to the bridge opening to allow a gap wide enough for a number of Outlanders trying to get inside, just before the hatch on the escape pod slammed shut and he and Garla were catapulted away from the freighter.

Through the small viewport he watched the ship jumping to warp, most likely dooming anyone left onboard.

No matter how thankful he felt for having escaped that ship, he wasn’t able to ignore the sick feeling deep down in the pit of his stomach that something about all this was terribly wrong.
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